Therapeutic Antibody Pioneers Get Spain's Top Science Prize

Honored. Winter (left) and Lerner (right).

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology; Scripps Research Institute

BARCELONA, SPAIN—British biochemist Gregory Winter and U.S. chemist Richard A. Lerner are this year's winners of Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research. The two researchers are jointly honored "for their decisive contributions to the field of immunology and, in particular, for obtaining antibodies of major therapeutic value," the Prince of Asturias Foundation announced yesterday.

Winter is former deputy director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, U.K., and founder of several biotechnology companies; he was appointed Master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in December 2011. Lerner is the Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Immunochemistry in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, which he led for 25 years, and is a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology. The two scientists have pioneered the treatment of degenerative diseases and tumors with specifically designed antibodies, according to the jury, which was unanimous.

"Winter has discovered the way to modify antibody-producing animal cells so that antibodies can function in the human organism without being rejected," the jury said. "Lerner's creation of combinatorial libraries of antibodies enables the construction of immunological repertoires far superior to those produced by the human immune system."

"It's nice when others are saying, 'Jeez, these guys are doing something useful,' " Lerner told ScienceInsider today. "It's such an important recognition for the field."

The two scientists were selected from more than 40 nominations. Their names had been put forward by medicine Nobel laureates Paul Nurse and Paul Greengard and by development biologist Peter Lawrence, who won the Prince of Asturias award himself in 2007. The duo will receive the award at a ceremony in Oviedo, Spain, in the fall.

Founded in 1980 in Oviedo under the presidency of Spanish Crown Prince Felipe, the foundation annually offers a cash prize of €50,000 in each of eight categories: the arts, communication and humanities, literature, sports, social sciences, technical and scientific research, international cooperation, and peace and human rights.