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Private vs public funding


Lack of interest in therapeutic antibodies
Aaron Klug Scientist
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So I called a meeting of... I called a meeting of Glaxo, Unipath, which is the antibody arm of Unilever, and they are the people who make the kind of antibodies which you can test for... basically pregnancy tests and so on, which you can buy over the counter, these are antibody tests for various hormones in the... in the... well, you can do it in the... and things of that sort, and other antibodies for testing for toxic agents. They are quite a big company. And the third company was Burroughs Wellcome. And so I... so we had a meeting and they all... I hoped that they would begin to exploit it in some way by putting effort into it and we would set up some system of licensing, or royalties, or whatever, and they all said, very, very, oh very, very nice and so on, and went away and did nothing. To say, you know, the culture of the time was really... well, in fact, in Britain you expected it, that they weren't very adventurous, but in 1990 I went to a meeting with Johnson & Johnson with Michael Neuberger to talk about these new kinds of antibodies, therapeutic antibodies, and the chairman of one of the sessions was James Black. James Black is a man who's the greatest benefactor of mankind. He discovered the antihistamine drug, Tagamet, later Zantac for ulcers, and the second one he did, was propanolol which is a beta-blocker beta-recept... you know... blocker. He got a Nobel Prize later. He hadn't got it then, but he was running very high, so when we spoke... Mike Neuberger spoke about chimeric antibodies, I spoke about Greg's work, because Greg wouldn't go to America, he hated Americans for some reasons which escape me. Later on, he made some peace with them, and James Black, full of prestige and the greatest... the greatest... I think they call themselves 'pharmacologists of the day', said, and he was the chairman of the session, so he spoke ex-cathedra... an antibody can never be a drug. So it was all part of the... and this is, I guess, reflected in what these other companies are.

So in the end I didn't know what to do. I thought we might do something else, so I went to Rothschild's, to various other companies so see if we could get money in other ways. Sydney Brenner was then advisor to Rothschild's, but we didn't get any money or anything from them. I think Sydney was a bit jealous of Greg, because he had been trying to do something similar in putting antibodies on the surface of lambda and he couldn't it to work. There was a... well, he didn't have all the secrets, the secrets of course lie not in the technique but more in the little tricks that you have, so you had to use Cadbury's milk powder. The only thing that worked was Cadbury's, which you added to the various mixtures, which prevented adhesion to the glass... you didn't lose the material. It was well known you added things. Bovine serum albumen is what one normally added, but Greg or Greg's people discovered Cadbury's milk powder was much better, and that was one of the know-how that you don't put into papers, you see. Anyway, I mustn't get trapped in these asides. So what could we do? So Greg Winter stimulated by Alan Fersht said, 'I'm going to set up my own company', and if he had been an American, the American style would be you leave academia and you set up a company, you get people to finance you. Now, we could get people to finance us. There was a company called Peptech in Australia run by Geoff Gregg who had been a student of... a student of... Fred Sanger, a very large genial Australian, and he... now, when you had to try to get money, you had to present a business plan. Now, business plans are all bogus, because as this is something totally new, how can you say what it'll cost to develop, how many years it will take, and so on. And so he didn't... he said, 'We don't need any of that. I'll try to raise some money for this', because he had confidence in this Lab and in the people, and he got money from Carlsberg Biotech which was the offshoot of Carlsberg Breweries, and they... they raised... they proposed that we form a company.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: Glaxo, Unipath, Burroughs Wellcome, Johnson & Johnson, Rothschild's, Cadbury's, Peptech, Carlsberg Biotech, Greg Winter, Michael Neuberger, James Black, Sydney Brenner, Geoff Gregg

Duration: 5 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008