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Receptor Occupancy and Flow Cytometry


The development of new oncology treatments has focused on strategies that alter immune responses. Many of these novel therapies use antibodies that bind to receptors on different immune cell subsets and either activate or suppress their functions depending on the immune response being targeted. Antibody-drug conjugates are also becoming more widely used for improved targeting of drugs to specific cell subsets. Flow cytometry-based receptor occupancy (RO) assays are a valuable tool for quantifying cell surface expression of target molecules and are used to generate pharmacodynamic (PD) data, which can be used with pharmacokinetic (PK) data to guide dosing strategies. Consider these different types of receptor occupancy assays as you develop the most useful tools for screening therapeutic molecules.

  1. CellsTotal receptor assay: The evaluation of a potential therapeutic target usually begins with an assessment of how many receptors are expressed by a given cell subset. If a receptor is abundantly expressed, it may be a difficult target to use due to potential off-target effects or the requirement of high doses of a therapeutic antibody. Measurement of total receptor involves using a fluorescently labeled antibody that binds to a receptor at a site that is different from the binding site of the therapeutic antibody of interest.
  2. Free receptor assay: In this assay, cells are first stained with an unlabeled therapeutic antibody and then stained with a labeled version of the same antibody, which will only bind to the remaining free receptors. Measurement of free receptor levels at different doses is required for generating PK/PD datasets.
  3. Drug-occupied receptor assay: This assay labels cells with your antibody of interest (“drug”), and then a labeled secondary antibody binds to a different site on your antibody of interest. This measurement can be used in place of free receptor assays when they are not technically feasible.

Combining data from free and total receptor assays over time is a useful method for measuring the kinetics of antibody binding and calculating potential half-lives of these molecules for therapeutic applications. Consider the type of assay you need for your phase of development. Engage with RO experts who can help you develop validated assays that can be used in preclinical and clinical settings. Flow cytometry-based RO assays will continue to be an essential tool in the development of novel oncology therapeutics.


Download the RO Assessment Fact Sheet New review article: Flow Cytometry & Receptor Occupancy in Immune-Oncology