17 February 2020

Nobel Prize winner inspires John Lyon chemists at Royal Institution lecture

A lecture by a Nobel Prize winning chemist has given a group of John Lyon students an inspirational insight into high-level academia.

The lecture, one of the Royal Institution’s popular Friday Evening Discourses which have been held for almost two centuries, gave students the chance to listen to Sir Gregory Winter speak about the work that won him the famous Nobel Prize for Chemistry  in 2018.

The talk, Harnessing the power of evolution for making new medicines, explored Sir Gregory’s work making monoclonal antibodies using a technique called phage display, how he did this and how his earlier work led to the development of drugs used to treat breast cancer and treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Part of the lecture audience, alongside respected scientists and university students, was Lower Sixth student Adam Azim. He said: “I found Sir Gregory’s perseverance in pursuit of results particularly interesting. He pioneered a new class of pharmaceutical drugs which have saturated the list of the world’s top selling drugs. Humira, for instance, is a fully human monoclonal antibody used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and is currently the world’s top selling pharmaceutical drug, with global sales of 20 billion US dollars. The continuing demand for antibody therapeutics is blatant hence Winter’s talk also focused on developing new medicines to meet this demand. He touched upon a relatively new biotech company of his – Bicycle therapeutics – regarding the chemical synthesis and therapeutic development of small compounds known as bicyclic peptides. Fingers crossed these may go on to treat thousands of people around the world, bettering their quality of life and breaking another medical barrier.”

John Lyon’s Head of Chemistry, Mr Nicholas Arratoon, was happy that student’s had taken away so much from such a traditional and important lecture stage for scientists. He said: “The Royal Institution’s Friday Evening Discourse has a long and prestigious history. It is here that ground-breaking discoveries such as that of electricity, the electron, and various chemical elements were publicly announced. Scientific giants of old including Michael Faraday, Sir Humphrey Davy, Lord Kelvin, as well as many other winners of awards in all areas of human endeavour, have spoken on their cutting-edge work in the Royal Institution’s famous lecture theatre. The Discourse also has various quirky traditions, such as the lecture starting punctually at 7.30pm and without announcement, and the speaker being locked in a room alone for ten minutes before the lecture. These peculiarly British features are all part of the experience.”