Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded for protein breakthroughs

Trio are given the prize for pioneering work inspired by ‘the power of evolution’

Biochemical engineer Frances Arnold in Pasadena, California, US. Arnold won half of this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Photograph: CalTech/EPA

Two Americans and a Briton won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for harnessing the power of evolution to produce novel proteins used in everything from environmentally friendly detergents and biofuels to cancer drugs.

The fruits of this work include the world’s top-selling prescription medicine – the antibody injection Humira, sold by AbbVie for treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, George Smith from the University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of Britain's MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology were awarded the prize for pioneering science in enzymes and antibodies.

Arnold, only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel, was awarded half of the 9 million Swedish crown (€870,000) prize, while Smith and Winter shared the other half.


“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, which awarded the prize, said.

Second woman

Ms Arnold is the second woman to win a Nobel prize this year after Canada's Donna Strickland shared the physics award on Tuesday.

Her research on enzymes – proteins that catalyse chemical reactions – laid the bedrock for the development of better industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Mr Smith developed a method using a virus that infects bacteria to produce new proteins, while Mr Winter used the same phage display technique for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing more effective medicines.

Humira, or adalimumab, was the first drug based on Mr Winter’s work to win regulatory approval in 2002.

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.

For the first time in decades, the Nobel line-up did not feature a literature award after a rift within the Swedish Academy, its awarding body, over a rape scandal involving the husband of a board member left it unable to select a winner.

Chemistry is the third of this year’s Nobel prizes to be awarded, after the winners of the medicine and physics awards were announced earlier this week. – Reuters