Scientific team discovers new monoclonal antibody for heart therapy

10 January 2022: a team headed by prof. Serena Zacchigna publishes the latest findings for heart therapy in Nature Communications.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, as well as the main source of health care costs. In Italy, over 20 billion euros a year are spent on the treatment of these diseases, and the numbers are set to grow.

A new study published in Nature Communications has shown the efficacy of a new biological drug, a monoclonal antibody capable of blocking fibrosis and protecting the heart muscle after myocardial infarction.

The study showed that this antibody has a beneficial effect by means of a double mechanism: on the one hand, it reduces the deposition of fibrous tissue which limits the heart’s pump function, and on the other, it promotes the survival of heart muscle cells.

The study, led by Serena Zacchigna, head of the Cardiovascular Biology lab, ICGEB Trieste, and professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Trieste, represents a turning point in the sector of innovative cardiovascular therapies.

“In contrast to the great social and healthcare pressure exerted by these diseases, the drugs we use to treat patients with heart disease are rather dated. New biological therapies” – explains Zacchigna – “are transforming oncological or hereditary disease treatments, while there are very few biological drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular disorders. The vast majority of therapies approved to date are small chemical molecules that generally have a single target, blocking the action of an enzyme or receptor, for example. By contrast, biological drugs (recombinant proteins, gene therapy products, and cell therapy) reproduce elements that normally exist in our tissues and therefore, have the potential to interfere with complex therapy mechanisms. However, they are more difficult to prepare and use, as well as being more expensive, making them complicated to translate from experimental studies to patients”.

This study, which is the result of a long collaboration between the Trieste institutes (ICGEB and the University of Trieste) and the University of Zagreb, Croatia, reveals the fundamental role of a family of proteins, called Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs), in the evolution of cardiac fibrosis after an ischemic event.

In the last phase of the project, a group of cardiac surgeons from Innsbruck joined the Trieste-Zagreb axis and contributed their experiences and skills to the mechanisms underlying ischemic damage and the development of innovative therapies, to validate the results of this study in other contexts of ischemia and fibrosis and to pave the road towards a possible clinical application of these results. This was made possible by the INCardio project – Innovative Therapies for Cardiovascular Disorders, led by ICGEB and financed by the European Regional Development Fund and by Interreg V-A Italy-Austria 2014-2020.

“We are confident that this work will open the door to other biological drugs in the cardiovascular sector” concludes Zacchigna, “as we need cooperation and collaboration among different skills to ensure that the study results can reach patients and that this can also be applied in Italy”.

Further reading:

Link to Paper: Bone morphogenetic protein 1.3 inhibition decreases scar formation and supports cardiomyocyte survival after myocardial infarction

Press release

Cardiovascular Biology Group 2021
A photo of the Cardiovascular Biology Group – in the shape of a heart – at ICGEB Trieste