The challenge: In nature, antibodies help defend us against infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria, and for more than a century, scientists have tried to turn them against cancer. Although they succeeded in turning mouse antibodies against human cancers, when these antibodies were injected into patients to treat the cancer, they were seen as foreign and rejected by the immune system.
The work: Through his research, Sir Gregory Winter discovered how to create synthetic human antibodies against human targets (such as cancer and inflammatory disease) in a way where they will not be rejected by the immune system.
Why it matters: Sir Gregory Winter’s work in the development of antibodies for therapeutic use has led to the development of modern treatments targeted against many of the most detrimental and widespread diseases including many cancers, infectious diseases and inflammatory conditions including Herceptin, Avastin, and Humira.
Sir Gregory Winter is a member of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge and until recently, served as its Deputy Director. He is now the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Sir Gregory Winter graduated from Cambridge University in 1973, specializing in chemistry and biochemistry. He continued his studies with Cambridge University, receiving his PhD in 1976, specializing in protein and nucleic acid sequencing. Sir Gregory Winter is a pioneer in the science of protein engineering, focusing first on enzymes and then antibodies. At the LMB, he invented techniques to humanize rodent antibodies for use as therapeutics (1986), and later to make fully human antibodies (1989) using combinatorial gene repertoires. His inventions are used in about half of the antibody products on the market, including the humanized antibodies Campath-1H, Herceptin, Avastin, Synagis, and the first human antibody (Humira) to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sir Winter is also an entrepreneur. He is a founder of Cambridge Antibody Technology (1989) and Domantis (2000). Both of these companies pioneered the use of antibody repertoire technologies to make fully human antibody therapeutics. In 2006, Cambridge Antibody Technology Ltd. was acquired by AstraZeneca PLC and Domantis Ltd. by GlaxoSmithKline PLC in 2006. Most recently, Sir Gregory Winter founded Bicycle Therapeutics Ltd., a biotechnology company dedicated to the development of a new generation of biotherapeutics.