25 March 2020
In recent years the application of genetic engineering technologies and/or laboratory-based evolution have led to the development of antibodies as a new class of pharmaceutical drugs. Many of the best-selling drugs are now antibodies, particularly for treatment of auto-immune inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Continuing technology development is opening up new prospects for antibody therapeutics, and for other peptide- and protein-based drugs created in like manner.
”This revolution in medicine originated in academia and biotechnology companies, but the uptake by the large pharmaceutical companies was slow. I will discuss the way in which this technology originated and was propagated, the impact of start-up companies and licensing strategies on the development of this market and on pharmaceutical companies, and the potential for further improvements.”
Sir Gregory Paul Winter FRS is a molecular biologist best known for his work on protein engineering and developing technologies to make therapeutic monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).
Previously, it had proved impossible to make human mAbs against human self-antigen targets, as required for treatment of non-infectious diseases such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis - and the corresponding rodent mAbs had provoked immune responses when given to patients.
Winter is credited with inventing techniques both to humanise rodent mAbs (1986) and to create fully human mAbs (1990). For his work on “harnessing the power of evolution” Winter was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with George Smith and Frances Arnold.
Winter was cited specifically “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”, the technology that led to the fully human antibody “Humira”, and which is now the world’s top-selling pharmaceutical drug. He founded three Cambridge-based start-up companies to help develop therapeutic drugs based on his inventions, and his research career has been based almost entirely at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the MRC Centre for Protein Engineering, in Cambridge, England.
He is a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge and was Master of the College from 2012-2019.
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