The principles of antibody therapy for infectious diseases with relevance for covid-19

Arturo Casadevall, Liise Anne Pirofski, Michael J. Joyner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Antibody therapies such as convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies have emerged as major potential therapeutics for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Immunoglobulins differ from conventional antimicrobial agents in that they mediate direct and indirect antimicrobial effects that work in concert with other components of the immune system. The field of infectious diseases pioneered antibody therapies in the first half of the 20th century but largely abandoned them with the arrival of conventional antimicrobial therapy. Consequently, much of the knowl-edge gained from the historical development and use of immunoglobulins such as serum and convalescent antibody therapies was forgotten; principles and practice governing their use were not taught to new generations of medical practitioners, and further development of this modality stalled. This became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 when convalescent plasma was initially deployed as salvage therapy in patients with severe disease. In retrospect, this was a stage of disease when it was less likely to be effective. Lessons of the past tell us that antibody therapy is most likely to be effective when used early in respiratory diseases. This article puts forth three principles of antibody therapy, namely, specific-ity, temporal, and quantitative principles, connoting that antibody efficacy requires the administration of specific antibody, given early in course of disease in sufficient amount. These principles are traced to the history of serum therapy for infectious diseases. The application of the specificity, temporal, and quantitative principles to COVID-19 is discussed in the context of current use of antibody therapy against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03372-20
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Antibody function
  • COVID-19
  • Convalescent plasma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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