Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2018: Harnessing the power of evolution

The 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for the directed evolution of enzymes and the phage display of peptides and antibodies, with implications in drug discovery.

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Oct 04, 2018

The 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Prize is to be shared, with one half awarded to Frances H Arnold (California Institute of Technology, CA, USA) and the other half shared jointly between George P Smith (University of Missouri, MO, USA) and Sir Gregory Winter (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK).

Frances Arnold, the fifth woman to win the Chemistry Nobel Prize, was recognized for her work in the directed evolution of enzymes, refining methods that are now commonplace in the manufacture of new catalysts. Her enzymes have been utilized in a variety of processes, including more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemicals, such as those used in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as renewable fuels.

Meanwhile, George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter are sharing their half of the award for their work in phage display. In 1985, Smith developed the method in which a bacteriophage can be used to evolve new proteins.

Winter utilized this method for the directed evolution of antibodies for the production of new pharmaceuticals. In 2002, adalimumab – the first antibody to be produced based on this method – was approved, and is now utilized in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Phase display has since been utilized to produce antibodies capable of counteracting immune diseases, neutralizing toxins and curing metastatic cancer.

Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (London, UK), which funded much of the research behind the breakthrough, commented:

“Huge congratulations to Professor Sir Gregory Winter on this well-deserved accolade!  The pioneering breakthrough work by Sir Greg and his colleagues at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology to develop humanized, and human, therapeutic antibodies has initiated a pharmaceutical revolution and led to the establishment of a whole new class of drugs which have helped millions of patients worldwide.  Today, monoclonal antibodies account for a third of all new treatments”.

“The MRC is proud to have funded Sir Greg Winter over many years to conduct this research.  His success is a testament to the MRC’s strategy for long-term investment of taxpayers’ money in fundamental discovery research.  This is the second Nobel celebration in two years at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology – no wonder it’s known as the ‘Nobel prize factory’!”

Learn more about the research (opens as a PDF)


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Jasmine Harris

Digital Editor, Future Science Group

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