Harnessing the power of evolution for making new medicines (Discourse)

7.20pm to 8.45pm, Friday 31 January

The Theatre

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place

  • Credit: Bengt Nyman via Flickr


Free for Ri Members and Ri Patrons


Ri Young Members £7


Standard £20


Concession £15

Event description

Sir Gregory Winter was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for making monoclonal antibodies using a technique called phage display.

This talk will explore how he did this and how his earlier work led to the development of drugs such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) used to treat breast cancer, and adalimumab (Humira) used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Join Sir Gregory as he explores what his work means, why it was such a breakthrough and what new medicines could be created in the future.

About the speaker

Sir Gregory Winter studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.  He then completed his PhD at the LMB, working on the amino acid sequence of tryptophanyl tRNA synthetase from the bacterium Bacillus stearothermophilus. His research career has been based almost entirely at the LMB and the MRC Centre for Protein Engineering (CPE). He became a Programme Leader in 1981, was Joint Head of the PNAC Division from 1994-2006, Deputy Director of the LMB from 2006-2011 and acting Director 2007-2008.  He was also Deputy Director of CPE from 1990 until its closure in 2010.

His main research focus is genetic and protein engineering. In his early research Gregory was interested in the idea that all antibodies have the same basic structure, with only small changes making them specific for one target. He pioneered techniques in humanised and human therapeutic antibodies, which led to antibody therapies for cancer and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. He has established hugely successful spin out companies including: Cambridge Antibody Technology (acquired by AstraZeneca), Domantis (acquired by GlaxoSmithKline) and Bicycle Therapeutics.

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, as well as being a Fellow or Honorary Fellow of many other professional organisations. He has been awarded numerous prizes and medals, including the 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  He received a Knighthood for services to Molecular Biology in 2004.

More about Discourses

Discourses are one of the Ri’s oldest and most prestigious series of talks. Since 1825, audiences in the theatre have witnessed countless mind-expanding moments, including the first public liquefaction of air by James Dewar, the announcement of the electron by JJ Thomson and over 100 lectures by Michael Faraday. In more recent times, we have had Nobel laureates, Fields medal winners, scientists, authors and artists – all from the cutting-edge of their field. Discourses are an opportunity for the best and brightest to share their work with the world.

Steeped in nearly two centuries of tradition, a Discourse is more than just a lecture. To keep the focus on the topic, presenters begin sharply at 7:30pm without introduction and we lock the speaker into a room ten minutes ahead of the start (legend has it that a speaker once tried to escape!). Some of our guests dress smartly for our Discourse events to add to this sense of occasion.

Find out more about the history of the Friday Evening Discourses on our blog.


Discourses are free for Ri Members and Ri Patrons. Join us today and support us on our mission.

Food and Drink

The Atrium cafe will be open before and after the talk. Check out the delicious menu and call 020 7670 2973 or email ri@ri.ac.uk to reserve your table.

Timing note

Please be aware that this Discourse starts at 7.30pm, but all attendees must be seated in the theatre by 7.20pm. 

The doors will open at approximately 6.45pm.

Latecomers will be admitted to the gallery.


This event will be filmed and on the Ri's YouTube channel within a few months. Subscribe for free to hear when new videos are released.


The theatre is on the first floor. We have step-free access from street to theatre. 

The closest underground station is Green Park, which is step-free.

There is space at floor level in the theatre for wheelchair users.

Seating is usually unreserved for our events. If you and your group require seating reservations, please do let us know by email and we’ll be more than happy to help. Email: events@ri.ac.uk.

Carers can receive a free ticket to an event by emailing events@ri.ac.uk.

Our theatre is equipped with an Audio Induction Loop. 

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