Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded for using evolution to develop adalimumab (Humira)
2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research using directed evolution to produce enzymes for new chemicals and pharmaceuticals
Scientists Frances Arnold, George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research using directed evolution to produce enzymes for new chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the award-giving body says.
“This year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles — genetic change and selection — to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on awarding the 9 million Swedish crown ($1.39 million) prize.
Dr Arnold of the California Institute of Technology was awarded half the prize for conducting the first directed evolution of enzymes, leading to more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemicals, including drugs, and in the production of renewable fuels.
Enzymes “are what all we organisms use to make our chemicals. So if you can harness enzymes for your own purposes, this is often more environmentally friendly than using heavy metals or toxic substances to make your chemicals,” said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
Dr Smith of the University of Missouri and Sir Gregory of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, share the other half of the prize.
Dr Smith developed a technique known as phage display, in which a bacteriophage — a virus that infects bacteria — can be used to evolve new proteins.
Sir Gregory used phage display to evolve antibodies with the aim of producing new drugs.
The first pharmaceutical based on Sir Gregory’s work was approved for use in 2002 and is employed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases, the academy said.
The chemical name of the drug is adalimumab, which has several trade names including Humira, one of the top-selling drugs in the world.
Dr Smith, reached at his home in Columbia, Missouri, was quick to credit the work of others in his prize.
“Pretty much every Nobel laureate understands that what he’s getting the prize for is built on many precedents, a great number of ideas and research that he is exploiting because he is at the right place at the right time,” he told AP.
“Very few research breakthroughs are novel. Virtually all of them build on what went on before. It’s happenstance.
“That was certainly the case with my work. Mine was an idea in a line of research that built very naturally on the lines of research that went before.”
Dr Smith said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm.
“It’s a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says you won. But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn’t any of my friends,” he said.
He said he had “no idea” what he would do with the prize money.
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