By John von Radowitz, Press Association Science Correspondent
A British pioneer of laboratory-produced “monoclonal” antibodies used in some of the most advanced medicines today has won a share of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Professor Sir Gregory Winter, from the University of Cambridge, was awarded a quarter share of the nine million Swedish krona (£770,000) prize money.
The honour recognises his work using a technique called “phage display” to produce new pharmaceutical drugs.
The process involves harnessing viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages, to evolve novel proteins.
Antibodies are used in a host of ways to neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and tackle spreading cancer.
Sir Gregory’s American co-laureates are Professor Frances Arnold, from the California Institute of Technology, and Professor George Smith, from the University of Missouri.
Prof Arnold, who picks up half the award, conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes – proteins that catalyse chemical reactions.
Prof Smith developed the technique of phage display later adopted by Sir Gregory.
The awards were announced at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
In its citation, the Nobel committee said: “The 2018 Nobel Laureates in chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind.
“Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals.
“Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and in some cases cure metastatic cancer.”
Sir Gregory, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, has followed a research career based almost entirely in Cambridge at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Centre for Protein Engineering.
He also founded three Cambridge biotech companies based on his discoveries: Cambridge Antibody Technology, Domantis and Bicycle Therapeutics.
Immunologist Professor Dan Davies, from the University of Manchester, said: “This is thrilling. The use of phage display to create new antibodies has been exceptionally important in science and medicine.
“As one example, Humira, developed with this technology, is used by thousands of people for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
“With this medicine, far fewer people with rheumatoid arthritis are forced to use a wheelchair.”