Protein Therapeutics

Research Focus

We recreate the body’s natural antibodies to develop new and better ways of diagnosing and treating disease.

Antibodies are a type of protein that play a particularly important role in our body’s immune responses. First and foremost, they identify and attach themselves to foreign cells called antigens. From there they carry out other tasks, such as neutralizing the antigen they attach to or signaling other immune cells to come and neutralize it. Our bodies can produce billions of different antibodies, and each one is able to bind with specific antigens that enter our bloodstream.

Over the last few decades, scientists have found they can use the power of antibodies to develop new ways of treating and diagnosing disease. Today, there are antibody-based therapies for breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. The monoclonal antibody cocktail developed to treat COVID-19 infection is another example. In many cases, antibody-based therapies are more targeted and specific than previous methods, have fewer side effects, or address conditions that were previously untreatable.

Sharing the resources necessary for antibody-based drug discovery

To develop new protein therapeutics based on antibodies, scientists recreate or simulate the body’s natural antibodies. One way of doing this is through a phage display antibody library. This library stores copies of our natural antibodies so they can be studied and, possibly, translated into new tests and treatments.

However, few scientists outside of large pharmaceutical and biotech companies have access to this kind of library. More and more smaller organizations and independent investigators want to tap into the power of antibodies, but they lack the resources to do so.

The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) is proud to break the mold with our Protein Therapeutics Lab. Within the lab, scientists from the IBRI or partner organizations can take advantage of our phage display library to isolate highly specific antibodies that bind to disease-related antigens — in a rapid and cost-effective manner that doesn’t rely on any laboratory animals. From there, they can test the potential benefits of using these antibodies in the course of diagnosis or treatment.

A bright future for research and patients

Antibodies may hold the secret to treating diseases we don’t have answers for today, as well as improving treatments and tests that exist already. Researchers at the IBRI are actively exploring opportunities in Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. Partner organizations are exploring how to leverage our library and lab to make breakthroughs in other disease areas.

As with other aspects of drug discovery, the IBRI aims to make the process of developing antibody-based therapeutics faster and more efficient. In particular, we’re accelerating the process of discovering “hits” — finding exactly which antibody binds with a specific antigen. We use and combine the latest technologies in unique ways, so that researchers studying a particular disease can quickly test an array of antibodies and identify the ones that play a role in fighting it.

With innovations like these, we hope more scientists and companies throughout the drug development community can bring more life-changing solutions to patients.

Staff Snapshot

Justin Layer, PhD

Justin Layer, PhD

Staff Scientist

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, 2010
  • Bachelor of Science, Indiana University, 2002


Scientists interested in collaborating with the protein therapeutics team on research should contact Justin Layer or Jay McGill.

Lab Positions

Please reach out to Justin Layer or Jay McGill to learn about potential opportunities.