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Custom aptamers: 5 factors to consider before you begin

Aptamers are increasingly being employed across the discovery and development pipeline. From drug screening to critical assay reagents and as targeted therapeutics, aptamers are being applied to support a range of projects.

Despite the large catalogues of antibodies, aptamers and alternatives available, if you need to explore new targets, require batch-consistent reagents or have specific assay requirements that must be met, you may require a custom Optimer. Working with selection experts can speed your timelines and help to navigate potential project hurdles before they arise.

Here we review some important things to consider before beginning your custom development project.


The cost of ineffective affinity reagents

More than $17 billion USD is wasted annually in preclinical pharmaceutical research on ineffective biological reagents, including antibodies and aptamers. This cost includes failed experiments, having to purchase alternative reagents, pursuing false biomarkers, and mistaken target ID stemming from inaccurate data. Antibodies have been identified as an important contributor to the reproducibility crisis. This crisis within life science has continued to highlight the inability to replicate key experiments and demonstrated previously drawn conclusions from these antibody-based studies as unfounded.

Target specificity and ensuring that your selected antibody, aptamer or Optimer perform in the desired assay matrix or environment is essential for confidence in your results. Working with a less-than-optimal affinity reagent may provide incomplete or inaccurate data, increasing the downstream risk to your project.

Consideration of downstream manufacturing costs at the beginning of your project, can prevent wasted research through market incompatible production prices. Make sure that the antibody, aptamer or Optimer you select for your development can be produced cost-effectively and efficiently.

Removing this issue by ensuring that your custom Optimer is fit-for-purpose and expertly selected, developed, and validated could help accelerate your pipeline by improving research efficiency and transitioning projects to the trials phase faster. Consulting with experts in custom development before beginning your project can ensure the custom reagent you receive is specific and robust enough to progress your research.

Meeting or beating tight project timelines

Unnecessary reagent expenditure may not be appreciated by your accountant, but the highest unaccounted cost to life science research is human capital expenditure. This includes time spent researching, designing, performing and analysing experiments and their data output.

Developing antibodies or aptamers in-house is highly laborious and time-consuming, with most projects taking ~9 months and still delivering inadequate results. The majority of commercial antibody development takes months and yields poor specificity, requiring further engineering efforts that may never meet the required specifications.

To avoid unnecessary research delays, working with a trusted partner to develop the right antibody, aptamer or Optimer reagent for your needs can speed your timelines, accelerating your route to market. Before you begin to work with a custom affinity reagent developer, it is vital to make sure they understand and can work to your project timelines. Without this you risk unnecessary delays in your projects and you could miss those important milestones.

A specific affinity reagent that performs in the right assay environment

Your project will define the specific antibody, aptamer or Optimer that you need. Particular binding characteristics, target selectivity or cross-reactivity, tolerance of different matrices, in vivo half-life and many more attributes will be required to meet different project goals and all must be taken into account at the outset.

Ensuring that you know the complete profile of the custom antibody, aptamer or Optimer you require before beginning selection can influence the selection strategy used for your reagent. Getting these details ahead of time and communicating them to your antibody, aptamer or Optimer development partner can make the difference between advancing your project or adding to your avoidable experimental expenditure.

Make sure to discuss your requirements with your custom affinity reagent provider, as their experience in a wide range of assays and targets could help you navigate any downstream stumbling blocks.

Validated performance for reliable data output

Once your custom antibody, aptamer or Optimer has been developed, the right validation of your reagent is imperative. This will give you confidence that the reagent binds to the target you need, in the assay environment that you need, shows no cross-reactivity and that any data you generate using this antibody, aptamer or Optimer is reliable and can be easily interpreted.

Multiple methods exist to validate affinity reagents, from simple target binding and KD analysis to evaluating application-specific performance. If your custom antibody, aptamer or Optimer requires extensive validation or you require a tailored assay development service, working with partners that support such studies can help to provide a complete data package to fast-track your research.

Downstream protection for your work

Following research and development, bringing a product to market that relies on an antibody, aptamer or Optimer, or incorporating a new process into your workflow that needs this reagent, means you need security of supply and assurance on batch consistency. These are essential to prevent delays in your workflow or supply to market.

Security of supply consists of a number of critical factors, including the availability and cost efficiencies of production, a known sequence to allow  de novo synthesis should your antibody, aptamer or Optimer become lost or damaged and the option to work with multiple suppliers to ensure sufficient availability.

Batch-to-batch consistency of your reagent is important to prevent extensive batch-to-batch standardisation work or the loss of your assay or research output through antibody or aptamer inconsistencies that result in irreproducible data.

Another important consideration is the potential scalability of your selected antibody, aptamer or Optimer. Scaling processes that rely on mammalian cell expression systems are non-linear, require extensive bioprocessing knowledge and can cause delays in development.

Finally, if you are considering shipping products globally or storing products for extended periods you could consider the antibody, aptamer or Optimer shelf-life, storage requirements and the requirements for cold-chain supply all of which may reduce the longevity of the product and increase logistical requirements.


We have a depth of experience in delivering custom Optimers to the most challenging targets for use in a wide range of applications, and offer end-to-end expert consultation on all projects. Our robust processes and automated platforms ensure rapid delivery, with custom Optimers available in as little as 4 weeks.

For further information please get in touch.

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