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Rapid Discovery and Characterization of Synthetic Neutralizing Antibodies against Anthrax Edema Toxin

Farcasanu, M;Wang, AG;Uchaski, T;Bailey, LJ;Yue, J;Chen, Z;Wu, X;Kossiakoff, A;Tang, WJ;

Anthrax, a lethal, weaponizable disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, acts through exotoxins that are primary mediators of systemic toxicity and also targets for neutralization by passive immunotherapy. The ease of engineering B. anthracis strains resistant to established therapy and the historic use of the microbe in bioterrorism present a compelling test case for platforms that permit the rapid and modular development of neutralizing agents. In vitro antigen-binding fragment (Fab) selection offers the advantages of speed, sequence level molecular control, and engineering flexibility compared to traditional monoclonal antibody pipelines. By screening an unbiased, chemically synthetic phage Fab library and characterizing hits in cell-based assays, we identified two high-affinity neutralizing Fabs, A4 and B7, against anthrax edema factor (EF), a key mediator of anthrax pathogenesis. Engineered homodimers of these Fabs exhibited potency comparable to that of the best reported neutralizing monoclonal antibody against EF at preventing EF-induced cyclic AMP production. Using internalization assays in COS cells, B7 was found to block steps prior to EF internalization. This work demonstrates the efficacy of synthetic alternatives to traditional antibody therapeutics against anthrax while also demonstrating a broadly generalizable, rapid, and modular screening pipeline for neutralizing antibody generation.