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Epitope‐specific affinity maturation improved stability of potent protease inhibitory antibodies

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Targeting effectual epitopes is essential for therapeutic antibodies to accomplish their desired biological functions. This study developed a competitive dual color fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to maturate a matrix metalloprotease 14 (MMP-14) inhibitory antibody. Epitope-specific screening was achieved by selection on MMP-14 during competition with N-terminal domain of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2) (nTIMP-2), a native inhibitor of MMP-14 binding strongly to its catalytic cleft. 3A2 variants with high potency, selectivity, and improved affinity and proteolytic stability were isolated from a random mutagenesis library. Binding kinetics indicated that the affinity improvements were mainly from slower dissociation rates. In vitro degradation tests suggested the isolated variants had half lives 6-11-fold longer than the wt. Inhibition kinetics suggested they were competitive inhibitors which showed excellent selectivity toward MMP-14 over highly homologous MMP-9. Alanine scanning revealed that they bound to the vicinity of MMP-14 catalytic cleft especially residues F204 and F260, suggesting that the desired epitope was maintained during maturation. When converted to immunoglobulin G, B3 showed 5.0 nM binding affinity and 6.5 nM inhibition potency with in vivo half-life of 4.6 days in mice. In addition to protease inhibitory antibodies, the competitive FACS described here can be applied for discovery and engineering biosimilars, and in general for other circumstances where epitope-specific modulation is needed.

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