Tell us a little about your role and background in this research area?
I’m a senior editor on Nature Immunology and we cover all aspects of immunology – mainly fundamental research into the workings of the immune system but also increasingly into more translational topics such as cancer immunotherapy. I worked for over 10 years in research and mainly with a background in immune tolerance – an area in which I’m still very interested.
What has been the most significant recent development in the research of antibodies?
The obvious one is the seminal description of monoclonal antibody production by Milstein and Köhler. Humanization has also been revolutionary in terms of facilitating the routine use of antibodies in patients. Both developments are now ‘ancient history’ as far as the story of monoclonal antibodies is concerned. Indeed it was the better part of 20 years before antibodies started coming into their own as a promising therapy for a wide range of conditions. Central to this has been the identification of suitable targets for antibodies such as CTLA-4, PD-1 and TNF. The antibody technology has been there for some time – we just needed to await some answers from basic research in immunology and other fields before they could start to realize their full potential.
What excites you most about the future of this research area?
Definitely the application of antibodies as a therapeutic. Passive cancer immunotherapy is making the biggest splash at the moment, but increasingly monoclonal antibodies are being applied to a host of other conditions ranging from autoimmune disease to infection to allergy. With their ability to bind an almost limitless array of targets with high specificity, antibodies are almost unique in the whole of biology. However it’s quite conceivable that totally synthetic molecules possessing all the beneficial properties of antibodies may one day be manufactured. That’s a very tantalizing prospect.
Can you tell us more about the collaboration on Milestones in Antibodies?
As an immunologist I’m biased. I love the fact that a central function of the immune system- the production of antibodies- has morphed into a $75 billion industry and a technology that is revolutionizing the way we treat patients. It’s easy to forget that Milstein and Köhler’s celebrated description of monoclonal antibodies started not as a means to create a vast therapeutic enterprise but rather to ask some fairly fundamental questions about the workings of the immune system. So we’re using a collection of articles and multimedia content to not only celebrate a world-changing technology but also the intellectual endeavour underpinning it.