A new online exhibition, sponsored by the MRC as part of its centenary, explores where monoclonal antibodies came from and how they began to be applied to improve our understanding of disease and to advance treatment.
‘A healthcare revolution in the making: The story of César Milstein and monoclonal antibodies’, sponsored by the Medical Research Council as part of its centenary, allows the public to access some of Milstein’s notebooks and writings for the first time and explores how monoclonal antibodies moved from Milstein’s laboratory into the clinic laying the foundation for a combined diagnostics and therapeutics market worth $55 billion in 2010.
Dr Lara Marks, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, of King’s College London, who put together the exhibition comments: ‘From Milstein’s papers we learn how Milstein pioneered the seminal technique for the production of monoclonal antibodies with Georges Köhler at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and how this new tool spread from the confines of Milstein’s laboratory to scientists across the world and were then adapted for clinical applications.’ Lara continues: ‘They also offer a glimpse into the messy world of patenting research science, revealing why the original technology for producing monoclonal antibodies was never patented and the pathway that was established early on for its commercialisation.’
Monoclonal antibodies are not only successful drugs, but are powerful tools for a wide range of medical applications, including understanding the cause and pathways of disease, typing blood and tissue for blood transfusion and organ transplants and as diagnostic tools for multiple diseases like cancer and infectious diseases. They are indispensable in so many walks of daily life thanks to their ability to target a single type of cell.
Today six out of ten of the best selling drugs in the world are monoclonal antibody therapeutics. One of these, Humira, which is a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, was listed as the top selling drug across the globe in 2012. It is predicted to reach over $13.7 billion in annual sales in 2013, surpassing the peak sales of Lipitor, a treatment for lowering cholesterol, that is the best selling drug of all time. Currently, monoclonal antibody drugs make up a third of all new medicines introduced worldwide.
The exhibition was launched on 14 February along with the website ‘What is Biotechnology?’ an educational resource offering information on what biotechnology is, the people and institutions involved in its creation and the benefits and risks it brings to healthcare.