Trio Wins Chemistry Nobel for Work on Antibody Drugs, Smart Enzymes

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Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses in a laboratory
Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses in a laboratory in an undated photo provided to Reuters by Caltech October 3, 2018. California Institute of Technology/Handout via REUTERS
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By Daniel Dickson and Ben Hirschler
STOCKHOLM/LONDON (Reuters)

Two Americans and a Briton won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for harnessing the power of evolution to generate novel proteins used in everything from environmentally friendly detergents to cancer drugs

The fruits of this work include the world’s top-selling prescription medicine — the antibody injection Humira sold by AbbVie for treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, George Smith from the University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of Britain’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology were awarded the prize for pioneering science in enzymes and antibodies.

 

George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, takes phone calls from well-wishers at his home in Columbia
George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, takes phone calls from well-wishers at his home in Columbia, Missouri, U.S. October 3, 2018. Courtesy of Marjorie Sable/Handout via REUTERS

 

Arnold, only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel, was awarded half of the nine million Swedish crown (770,836 pounds) prize while Smith and Winter shared the other half.

“Some people breed cats and dogs. I breed molecules,” Arnold told Reuters after learning of the award, which she said had come as a complete surprise.

 

Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge
Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge, Britain, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Radburn

 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Arnold had transformed science by using the principles of evolution — genetic change and selection — and to evolve new types of proteins very fast.

Arnold is the second woman to win a Nobel prize this year after Canada’s Donna Strickland shared the physics award on Tuesday.

Her research on enzymes – proteins that catalyse chemical reactions – laid the bedrock for the development of better industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

 

 

“There are enzymes now in detergents that we use in our dishwasher and have been evolved by this process. There are also enzymes that can create new types of biofuels or that catalyse the formation of building blocks for new medicines,” said chairman of the Nobel chemistry committee Claes Gustafsson.

“All this you can do with enzymes that Frances Arnold has developed.”

 

PARADIGM SHIFT

Smith developed a method using a virus that infects bacteria to produce new proteins while Winter used the same phage display technique to engineer the evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing more effective medicines.

 

Frances Arnold winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena
Frances Arnold, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is applauded by Caltech Provost David A. Tirrell (R), during a news conference at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

 

Humira, or adalimumab, was the first drug based on Winter’s work to win regulatory approval in 2002. It has since gone on to become a blockbuster, with sales last year of $18 billion.

“With this medicine, far fewer people with rheumatoid arthritis are forced to use a wheelchair,” said immunologist Dan Davies of the University of Manchester.

 

George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses at his home in Columbia
George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses at his home in Columbia, Missouri, U.S. September 5, 2018. Courtesy of Marjorie Sable/Handout via REUTERS

 

Other antibody drugs at the cutting edge of medicine use the same technology, including a number of treatments that have proved highly effective against cancer.

Winter said he was surprised by the huge commercial success of antibody drugs, which he put down in large part to the high prices that drug companies have managed to charge for them.

 

Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge
Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge, Britain, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Radburn

 

“I had no idea they would be so commercially successful … it was a complete paradigm shift,” he told reporters in a conference call. “Antibodies as a pharmaceutical product are still growing great guns.”

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.

 

Frances Arnold winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her son James during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena
Frances Arnold, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, stands with her son James Bailey (R), during a news conference at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

 

For the first time in decades, the Nobel line-up did not feature a literature award after a rift within the Swedish Academy over a rape scandal involving the husband of a board member left it unable to select a winner.

The science and peace prizes are selected by other bodies. Chemistry is the third of this year’s Nobel Prizes after the winners of the medicine and physics awards were announced earlier this week.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Anna Ringstrom, Niklas Pollard, Simon Johnson and Helena Soderpalm, Editing by Richard Balmforth, William Maclean)

 

U.S. President Obama presents the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to Dr. Frances Arnold from the California Institute of Technology during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to Dr. Frances Arnold from the California Institute of Technology during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

 

Pictures of the 2018 Nobel Prize laureates for chemistry are displayed on a screen during the announcement at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in Stockholm
Pictures of the 2018 Nobel Prize laureates for chemistry: Frances H. Arnold of the United States, George P. Smith of the United States and Gregory P. Winter of Britain are displayed on a screen during the announcement at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in Stockholm, Sweden, October 3, 2018. Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

 

Arnold participates in the 2008 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills
Frances Arnold, Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry, California Institute of Technology, participates in the Investing in the Future: Accelerating the Clean-Tech Revolution panel at the 2008 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 30, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

 

Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge
Gregory Winter, poses for photographs after being awarded the Noble Prize for Chemistry, outside Trinity College Cambridge, Britain, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Radburn

 

George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses at his home in Columbia
George P. Smith from the University of Missouri, a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, poses at his home in Columbia, Missouri, U.S. October 3, 2018. Courtesy of Marjorie Sable/Handout via REUTERS

 

Frances Arnold, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, toasts during a news conference at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California
Frances Arnold, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, toasts during a news conference at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
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