Newswise — Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI) announced today that alpha testing has begun on a novel scorecard system to evaluate and rank research antibody performance. This first-of-its-kind antibody scorecard is a quantitative performance measuring system that will provide users detailed information as it pertains to a given antibody. The data would allow researchers to select antibodies for a given application based on their intrinsic on-target, off-target and other technical characteristics, ultimately improving accuracy and resulting in more reproducible research.  

“The scoring system for antibodies is a bold step toward more reproducible research,“ said Leonard P. Freedman, Ph.D., president of GBSI. “Previous attempts to improve antibody performance resulted in general validation guidelines, but they are not followed by many researchers and producers. GBSI would like to thank all those who participated in the application-specific working groups that helped to create and test this system.”  

The application-specific working groups were formed shortly after a workshop held by GBSI at Asilomar Conference Grounds last year, and broadly represent stakeholders in the preclinical life sciences research space, including academic experts, scientists from producer companies, journal editors and others. With more than 100 attendees, the workshop was amongst the most representative gatherings of all stakeholder groups convened specifically on the topic of antibody validation. Participants left the meeting in strong agreement that creating antibody validation guidelines is necessary. Development of a scoring system was proposed as an effective way to provide transparency of data needed for researchers to select the right antibody for each study.   

When completed, the new GBSI scoring system will provide two much-needed tools: first, it will enable a user to search an open database of antibodies with scorecards to find the best one for their research, and second, users can contribute to the database by filling out a GBSI scorecard for antibodies they validated in their own lab. Like any new tool, scorecards require extensive testing, and adjustments in time, but the introduction of an antibody scoring system will provide a transparent tool that scientists can use to assess and select the right antibodies for their experiments. “Once implemented, the scoring system will create sustainable change and even more momentum toward the adoption of standards that will increase accuracy and reproducibility of biomedical research,” said Freedman.

After alpha testing the initial scorecards for three of the most used applications—Western Blot, ELISA and Immunohistochemistry— participating manufacturers and academics will meet to review the outcomes and determine what, if any, changes are needed. Outcomes and results can then be applied to the development of scorecards for the remaining applications. The goal is to launch a website in 2018 where both users and producer companies can score an antibody and also search the database which ultimately will contain scorecards of thousands of the most popular antibodies. During beta testing, the scorecards and system will be posted for public comment, and the guidelines and insights from the entire process will be published.

Antibodies are among the most indispensable tools in biological research. Their ability to bind to specific molecules make them ideal probes in cell research, where they are used to latch onto, and thus help isolate, identify, and illuminate molecules of interest in and on cells. Unfortunately, multiple studies of the extent and cause of irreproducible research indicate that unreliable antibodies are one of the most common roadblocks hampering the progress of basic lab research crucial to identifying new treatments and cures for disease. Based on a published economic analysis carried out by GBSI in 2015, antibodies, cell lines and other biological reagents account for more than $10 billion, or 36 percent, of the $28 billion spent annually on non-replicable research in the U.S. alone.

One example that illustrates the importance of using validated antibodies was brought home in a 2017 article in Nature Communications on estrogen receptor beta (ER-β) research. ER-β was identified over 20 years ago as a possible biomarker for breast cancer, and yet, a review of 13 commercial antibodies used in that research showed only one – the least used one – actually targeted it. “If the performance of those various ER-b antibodies had been scored with our system, researchers would more likely have been able to compare the antibody with others and select the one that best targeted ER- β,” said Freedman.

Product scoring is far from new. Consumer Reports evaluates new cars, TVs and other products using multiple criteria that inform a set of scores. So does the Wine Spectator. This approach is now being applied to preclinical biological research.

“For the first time, reagents will be assessed based on their performance, not by their name brand or their marketing,” said Joshua LaBaer, M.D., Ph.D., executive director, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University and chair of the GBSI Western Blot Validation working group. “This is what we all need now for scientific reproducibility and cost effectiveness. Users need a way to look at a product and determine if it will perform for them and their particular needs. The first step is to develop a scheme that ranks these qualities in a fair way that cannot be gamed, that is based on shared transparent data and that is reproducible when based on the same data set.” 

“The usage-specific guidelines GBSI are developing are a definite advancement in our work to establish standards that will make an impact, said David L. Rimm, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and director, Yale Pathology Tissue Services, Yale University School of Medicine. “In academic research alone, coming to conscientious agreement among users about validating antibodies and requisite training can reduce failures that will save research time and dollars, and expedite new and improved treatments.”

“My personal wish is that there will be general adoption of the scoring system and that it becomes the standard when validating an antibody,” said Freedman. “Consumers often rely on scoring systems to make more informed purchasing decisions, as long as the scoring is straightforward and transparent. Why should the purchase of essential reagents such as antibodies be any different?”

About Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI)

Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of biomedical research by advocating best practices and standards to accelerate the translation of research breakthroughs into life-saving therapies. GBSI was founded by the nonprofit American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), and is currently funded primarily by ATCC’s BioNexus Foundation, with additional support from other grants and donations. For more information, visit and Twitter @GBSIorg.


Media Contacts:                 

Carol Miller: [email protected]; 202-306-0130

Nancy Retherford: [email protected]; 317-460-6838

URLs:                                 2017 Nature Communications article PLOS link