They started out as a useful tool for studying the immune system in the lab and now they’re a family of drugs treating millions of patients, with global revenues of nearly $75 billion in 2013. MRC funding and researchers have been entwined with the monoclonal antibodies story from the very beginning. Forty years ago this month, Nature published a paper by César Milstein and Georges Köhler which described how they’d made mouse monoclonal antibodies. Here we look at the landmarks on the 40-year journey.
They can fight disease, determine blood types, and diagnose pregnancy in minutes. Such varied uses, but the usefulness of monoclonal antibodies actually lies in their uniformity.
Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Monoclonal antibodies are tailored in the lab to recognise specific desirable targets, such as a marker on a cancer cell or a pregnancy hormone. They are then churned out in their identical multitudes, ready to become a drug, a diagnostic test, or a probe to study disease in the lab. Read more
Think that baking science-themed cakes is a modern phenomenon? Think again. Here Dr Lara Marks explains the story behind this cake baked to celebrate the opening of the Therapeutic Antibody Centre, a small facility which brought the world the first humanised monoclonal antibody drug. The centre features in a new online exhibition which tells the story of that drug, Campath.
(Image copyright: Geoff Hale)
This photograph, taken in 1990, shows a cake baked by research technician Jenny Phillips to commemorate the official opening of the Therapeutic Antibody Centre (TAC) in Cambridge in September of that year.
Supported by funds from the MRC, the purpose of the centre was to manufacture monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), a new type of drug which had been developed in Cambridge a couple of years earlier. There are now more than 30 mAb therapies on the market and approximately 300 mAbs are currently in clinical trials. In 1990, however, the drugs were still very much at an experimental stage, and the aim of the centre was to produce small amounts of mAbs for pilot clinical trials. Read more
César with a flask containing monoclonal antibodies growing in a fluid (Image copyright: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology)
A new online exhibition about the life and work of luminary MRC researcher César Milstein is unveiled today. Here Dr Lara Marks of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London, who put the exhibition together, discusses the inspiration behind it and the stories you can find within a scientist’s notebook.
Today, monoclonal antibodies are intrinsic to healthcare. They’re used every day as probes to unravel the pathways of disease, to diagnose a patient’s condition or as powerful drugs. Everyone who has ever used a home pregnancy test will have, perhaps unwittingly, used monoclonal antibody technology. But they started life as a laboratory research tool, and their journey into clinical use was one fraught with complexity.
Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Since the early twentieth century scientists had been keen to produce large amounts of antibodies specific to a particular target for research or clinical purpose, but with no success.
In 1975 César Milstein and his colleague Georges Köhler at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge developed a way to produce monoclonal antibodies by fusing myeloma cells — a type of cancerous immune cell — with mouse spleen cells that had been exposed to a target. As well as creating a research tool for investigating the immune system and the pathways of disease, this also laid the foundations for the production of antibody-based drugs against specific diseases. Read more