DoD funds new bioterror agent detection system

AnaptysBio, a San Diego area biotech company, has been granted $1.5 million from the Department of Defense to fund research into bioterror agent detection.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant will be used to create antibodies that can detect anthrax, smallpox, cholera, typhus fever, sarin and other toxins. AnaptysBio already has the technology platform in place to create these antibodies, but needs to make them effective in the harsh climates of places like Afghanistan and Yemen, according to

AnaptysBio, founded in 2005, seeks to utilize somatic hypermutation in its detection methods. Somatic hypermutation is a biological process the body undergoes when it is exposed to toxins.

The human body regularly has immature antibodies circulating in the blood that have yet to become specialized in attacking a particular intruder bacteria or virus. When somatic hypermutation occurs, the antibodies are forced to evolve their binding properties, which allow them to bind to the intruder in an effort to shut it down.

“Somatic hypermutation is how the body takes the immature antibodies and makes them into potent, disease-fighting antibodies,” Tom Smart, AnaptysBio's CEO, told

In the laboratory, researchers repeatedly select, in round after round, the antibodies that have the best binding characteristics, creating antibodies that are more specialized and stronger. The antibodies are to then be used in detection devices that are specific for a given toxin.

“If you want to detect anthrax, for instance, when the anthrax binds to the antibody it will then send a signal through the sensor device that it has bound,” Smart said. “The military often operates in harsh conditions, so these antibodies—which are biological material—need to be able to be stored in whatever conditions exist, even extreme temperatures, and still have the desired binding properties.”

The DARPA money will be used to make these antibodies stable without having to place them into a refrigerator for storage, or as cold liquid or dry powder.

“The idea is to be able to use these antibodies in a wide variety of conditions—out in the desert, but also in cities on U.S. soil and elsewhere,” Smart told “There should be no limitation to where they can be used in biosensors.”