Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Argentinian biochemist Cesar Milstein and British immunologist Andrew McMichael produce the first monoclonal antibodies that target human T-cells. This lays the foundation for new understandings of the immune responses and disease. While initially rejected for publication, this work is published in A.J. McMichael, J.R. Pitch, J.W. Fabre, David Y. Mason, G. Galfre, 'A human thymocyte antigen defined by a hybrid myeloma monoclonal antibody', European Journal of Immunology, 9/3 (March 1979), 205-210. 1978-01-01T00:00:00+0000Cesar Milstein and Alan Williams generate a monoclonal antibody that targets blood group A cells. 1978-01-01T00:00:00+00001978-01-01T00:00:00+0000Sera-Lab, a British company specialising in antiserum, issues its first catalogue advertising monoclonal antibody cells from Milstein's laboratory. It represents the first commercialisation of monoclonal antibodies. 1978-02-01T00:00:00+0000An American-Canadian physiologist, Best is best known as the medical student who helped Frederick Banting discover insulin, a pancreatic hormone, which laid the foundation for the effective treatment of diabetes. In 1923 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery. 1978-03-31T00:00:00+0000Hinden, A, Hicks, J B, Fink, G R, 'Transformation of yeast', PNAS, 75/4 (1978), 1929-33.1978-04-01T00:00:00+0000The baby was Louise Joy Brown. She was born after her mother received treatment for infertility. The procedure involved removing an egg from Louise's mother, fertilising it in the laboratory and then replanting it into her mother. 1978-07-25T00:00:00+0000Awarded to Werner Arber, Daniel Nathans and Hamilton O Smith.1978-10-01T00:00:00+0000MJ Berendt, RJ North, DP, Kirstein, 'The immunological basis of endotoxin-induced tumor regression: requirement for T-cell-mediated immunity', J Exp Med, 148 (1978), 1550-9. 1978-12-01T00:00:00+0000du Vigneaud was an American biochemist whose research focused on sulfur, proteins and peptides. In late 1940s he helped isolate and synthesise two pituitary hormones: vasopressin and oxytocin. Vasopressin is an antidiurtic hormone that helps protect cells from sudden increases or decreases in water which can affect the cell's function. Oxytocin is a neurohormone that helps contract the uterus during labour and stimulate the secretion of milk during lactation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1955 for this work. Prior to this, in the 1930s, he helped identify the chemical structure of insulin and worked out the structure of biotin, a sulfur-bearing vitamin.1978-12-11T00:00:00+0000Six groups of investigators working independently from each other made the discovery. Those involved in the work included Lionel Crawford and David Lane; Albert Deleo and Lloyd Old; and Arnold Levine. 1979-01-01T00:00:00+00001979-01-01T00:00:00+0000Hilary Koprowski, Polish-born virologist and director of the Wistar Institute, together with American entrepreneur Michael Wall establish Centocor with Dutch-born biochemist Hubert Schoemaker and American scientist Ted Allen. Located in Philadelphia, Centocor is the second American company established to commercialise monoclonal antibodies for medical diagnostics and therapeutics.1979-05-01T00:00:00+0000Woodward as an organic chemist who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for opening up the field of artificial synthesis. He first made his mark in the early 1940s by demonstrating the application of ultraviolet spectroscopy for elucidating the structure of natural products. His method helped reduce the long and extremely tedious steps previously used to decipher the chemical structures of such products. In 1944 he and his postdoctoral researcher, William von Eggers Doering reported the successful synthesis of quinine, an organic compound used for the treatment for malaria. He went on to synthesis other organic compounds like cholesterol, cortisone, strychnine, and chlorophyll.1979-07-08T00:00:00+0000Lynen was a German biochemist who was director of the Max Plank Institute for Cellular Chemistry. He is best known for having helped determine the chemical mechanism for the production and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for this work. His findings opened the pathway to understanding the role of cholesterol in heart disease and stroke. 1979-08-06T00:00:00+0000Chain was a German Jewish biochemist who sought refuge in England from the Nazis in 1933. In the late 1930s he helped discover the therapeutic action of penicillin and how it could cure bacterial infections. He also managed to isolate the substance by freeze-drying the mold broth and work out its chemical composition. His work enabled the large-scale production of the compound. In 1945 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on penicillin. Aside from penicillin, Chain was involved in the development of fermentation techniques for the isolation of other biologically important molecules, including other antibiotics. 1979-08-12T00:00:00+0000Hilary Koprowski, Polish-born virologist, and colleagues granted US patent for monoclonal antibodies against tumour antigens (US Patent 4,172,124). The patent helps in the building of Centocor, the second American biotechnology set up to commercialise monoclonal antibodies. It also causes a major political controversy in Britain as the patent makes broad claims, essentially patenting the technique first developed by Cesar Milstein and George Kohler in 1975.1979-10-01T00:00:00+0000US Supreme Court, in the landmark case Diamond v. Chakrabarty, approves the principle of patenting genetically engineered life forms1980-01-01T00:00:00+0000The American scientists Stanley Cohen and Herbet Boyer are awarded the first US patent for gene cloning.1980-01-01T00:00:00+0000The British scientist, David Secher, based at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, together with Derek Burke, a British scientist at Warwick University, create the first monoclonal antibody suitable for purifying interferon. This lays the foundation for the use of monoclonal antibodies as tools for the purification of human therapeutic proteins and other natural compounds.1980-01-01T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1978First monoclonal antibodies generated to human T-cellsMilstein, McMichaelLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford UniversityMonoclonal antibodies
1978First monoclonal antibody generated for blood typingMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford UniversityMonoclonal antibodies
1978Transplantable stem cells discovered in human cord bloodEvansCambridge UniversityStem cells
Feb 1978First commercialisation of monoclonal antibodies as laboratory reagentsMilstein, MurrayLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Sera-LabMonoclonal antibodies
1978Charles H Best diedBestUniversity of TorontoEndocrinology
Apr 1978Experiments show the possiblity of transforming the genome of yeastHinnen, Hicks, FinkCornell UniversityGene editing
25 Jul 1978The first successful test-tube baby was born   
Oct 1978Nobel Prize for discovery and understanding of restriction enzymesArber, Nathans, SmithJohns Hopkins University, University of GenevaRestriction enzymes, Recombinant DNA, DNA Sequencing
1978T cell-mediated immunity shown to aid tumour regressionBerendt, North, KirsteinTrudeau InstituteCancer immunotherapy, Oncology
11 Dec 1978Vincent du Vigneaud dieddu VigneaudCornell UniversityBiochemistry
1979The first tumour suppressor gene was discovered, known as p53Crawford, Lane, Deleo, Old, Levine Immunology, Oncology, p53
1979Beta-thalassemia gene successfully inserted into bone marrow of irradiated miceClineUniversity of California Los AngelesGene therapy
May 1979Centocor foundedKoprowski, Schoemaker, WallWistar InstituteMonoclonal antibodies
Jul 1979Robert Burns Woodward diedWoodwardHarvard UniversityPharmacology
6 Aug 1979Feodor Lynen diedLynenMax-Planck-Institute for Cellular ChemistryBiochemistry
12 Aug 1979Ernst B Chain diedChainOxford University, Imperial CollegeAntibacterial agents
Oct 1979First US patent for monoclonal antibodies grantedKoprowski, MilsteinWistar InstituteMonoclonal antibodies
1980Genetic engineering recognised for patenting  Recombinant DNA
1980First patent awarded for gene cloningCohen, BoyerStanford University Medical SchoolRecombinant DNA
Jan 1980First monoclonal antibody created to purify a human therapeutic protein.Burke, Milstein, SecherLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Warwick UniversityMonoclonal antibodies


First monoclonal antibodies generated to human T-cells


First monoclonal antibody generated for blood typing


Transplantable stem cells discovered in human cord blood

Feb 1978

First commercialisation of monoclonal antibodies as laboratory reagents


Charles H Best died

Apr 1978

Experiments show the possiblity of transforming the genome of yeast

25 Jul 1978

The first successful test-tube baby was born

Oct 1978

Nobel Prize for discovery and understanding of restriction enzymes


T cell-mediated immunity shown to aid tumour regression

11 Dec 1978

Vincent du Vigneaud died


The first tumour suppressor gene was discovered, known as p53


Beta-thalassemia gene successfully inserted into bone marrow of irradiated mice

May 1979

Centocor founded

May 1979

Robert Burns Woodward died

6 Aug 1979

Feodor Lynen died

12 Aug 1979

Ernst B Chain died

Oct 1979

First US patent for monoclonal antibodies granted


Genetic engineering recognised for patenting


First patent awarded for gene cloning

Jan 1980

First monoclonal antibody created to purify a human therapeutic protein.