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The antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), a humanized or human monoclonal antibody conjugated with highly cytotoxic small molecules (payloads) through chemical linkers, is a novel therapeutic format and has great potential to make a paradigm shift in cancer chemotherapy. The three components of the ADC together give rise to a powerful oncolytic agent capable of delivering normally intolerable cytotoxins directly to cancer cells, which then internalize and release the cell-destroying drugs. At present, two ADCs, Adcetris and Kadcyla, have received regulatory approval with >40 others in clinical development.
ADCs are administered intravenously in order to prevent the mAb from being destroyed by gastric acids and proteolytic enzymes. The mAb component of the ADC enables it to circulate in the bloodstream until it finds and binds to tumor-specific cell surface antigens present on target cancer cells. Linker chemistry is an important determinant of the safety, specificity, potency and activity of ADCs. Linkers are designed to be stable in the blood stream (to conform to the increased circulation time of mAbs) and labile at the cancer site to allow rapid release of the cytotoxic drug. First generation ADCs made use of early cytotoxins such as the anthracycline, doxorubicin or the anti-metabolite/antifolate agent, methotrexate. Current cytotoxins have far greater potency and can be divided into three main groups: auristatins, maytansines and calicheamicins.
The development of site-specific conjugation methodologies for constructing homogeneous ADCs is an especially promising path to improving ADC design, which will open the way for novel cancer therapeutics.
 Tsuchikama K, et al. Protein Cell. 2016 Oct 14. DOI:10.1007/s13238-016-0323-0.
 Peters C, et al. Biosci Rep. 2015 Jun 12;35(4). pii: e00225. doi: 10.1042/BSR20150089.