Leicester-born Nobel Prize winner shares his story with DMU students


A British scientist and Nobel Prize winner whose ground-breaking work led to the creation of some of today’s most advanced pharmaceutical drugs has been sharing his story with students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Sir Gregory Winter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2018, in recognition of his pioneering method known as ‘phage display’, which has been used to produce new pharmaceuticals, including the world’s best-selling drug Humira – prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Greg and Parvez
Sir Gregory Winter and Professor Parvez Haris

Sir Greg found he could engineer phages – viruses that infect bacteria and trick it into reproducing – that produced antibodies on their surfaces. This meant he could screen the antibodies to see how they best interacted with other molecules or cells.

Other therapies discovered as a result of this technique include breast cancer drug Herceptin and Avastin, which is used to treat cancers and eye condition age-related macular degeneration.

“I feel proud knowing my work makes a difference to patients,” he said. “I sometimes get to meet people who are on these drugs and they tell me how much they have helped them – I even get people thanking me for giving them extra years of their life.”

During an hour-long lecture before a packed audience at DMU, Sir Greg discussed the revolution of the pharmaceutical industry, explaining his method in more detail and sharing the challenges he faced along the way.

“The biggest challenge is taking the science and translating it into medicine to make sure it works in real life,” he said.

“My advice for students is to be critical of yourself and to always keep on trying, because the reality is, most things you try will fail. It’s about recognising when it might not go to plan and working out what changes you can make to ensure it does.”

Sir Greg studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and went on to do his PhD at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. His main research focus is genetic and protein engineering.

He is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and has been Master of Trinity since 2012. He was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 1987, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990 and Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2006.

In order to see his technologies applied, he established extremely successful companies including: Cambridge Antibody Technology (acquired by AstraZeneca), Domantis (acquired by GlaxoSmithKline) and Bicycle Therapeutics.

He received a knighthood for services to molecular biology in 2004 and has been awarded many prizes and medals, including the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

While his research career has been primarily based in Cambridge, Sir Greg is in fact originally from Leicester.

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“I was born in Leicester but we moved to Africa when I was a few months old,” he said. “We used to come back every year to see my grandmother so it’s interesting being here now and hearing the accent I recognise from my childhood.

“I’ve heard a fair few ‘eh-ups’ since I got here!”

Parvez Haris, Professor of Biomedical Science, invited Sir Greg to visit to DMU and is responsible for organising the distinguished lecture series at DMU.  

He said: “It was a genuine privilege to host Nobel Prize winner Sir Gregory Winter at DMU and it was truly fascinating to hear more about his ground-breaking work. Our students were captivated throughout the lecture and it was an honour to welcome such a highly-regarded researcher onto campus. 

“We also organised a competition amongst our students to celebrate Sir Greg’s prize-winning work, and one of our Biomedical Science students, Alexandra Marinescu, produced a poem that was awarded first prize.”

Posted on Friday 11th October 2019

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