Have you experienced the following scenario? You are at a rock concert (or a team-building exercise at work) and lean back into a mosh pit (or group of your co-workers) with the expectation that they will catch you. If you have faith in people, then you would probably lean back and fall. If they catch you, great. If they let you fall, then an enormous “ouch” awaits you.

In research, many times we exercise a blind trust with our reagents and too often experience a huge ouch due to a lack of validation. Sometimes, the ouch can be tolerable. Other times, it truly is a matter of life or death.

Strict quality control is crucial for the development of safe and potent vaccines. A failed vaccination opens the door for the recipient to develop the disease and potentially die, even though the person thinks he or she is immune. Pharmaceutical companies realize this possibility and take great care to ensure the vaccines will work every time, year after year. Antibodies are needed to test vaccine potency, but antibody performance can be questionable at times. Recently, Merck began to explore alternatives to antibodies.

In Merck’s investigation of antibody alternatives, it assessed SomaLogic’s SOMAmer® reagents (Trausch, Shank-Retzlaff, & Verch, 2017). Thanks in part to SomaLogic’s proprietary technology, SOMAmers exhibit the same tight specific interaction with their target proteins as is observed in high quality antibodies. However, unlike antibodies, SOMAmers are made synthetically. This reduces the batch-to-batch variability, increases purity, speeds development, and reduces cost.

The Merck scientists conducting the work remarked on the virtues of the SOMAmers. They noted that SomaLogic delivered SOMAmers possessing the desired specificity. In the vaccine potency assay, the SOMAmers performed well. The use of the SOMAmers allowed the scientists to develop a new version of the assay that required fewer materials, fewer steps and required less time.

As trust in antibodies can falter, it’s good to know that reliable alternatives exist. Ready to lean back?


Trausch, J. J., Shank-Retzlaff, M., & Verch, T. (2017). Development and Characterization of an HPV Type-16 Specific Modified DNA Aptamer for the Improvement of Potency Assays. Anal Chem, 89(6), 3554-3561. doi:10.1021/acs.analchem.6b04852