A long history: An introduction to biosimilars and monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)


As we mentioned in the last post, biopharmaceuticals encompass all substances used to treat a disease that are solely and exclusively extracted from living creatures. The interesting history of these substances, which are essentially proteins, dates back to their discovery in the eighteenth century, and we would like to share this with you.
In addition, monoclonal antibodies also have their own story to tell. These antibodies, as you may remember, are large, complex proteins used by the immune system to identify and neutralise foreign bodies, such as bacteria, viruses, etc.
We have to go right back to the eighteenth century to find out how biopharmaceuticals came to be discovered. In 1796, the scientist Edward Jenner successfully inoculated a healthy subject with cowpox, thereby providing immunity to smallpox. This was in effect the first ever vaccination, although back then the system used was a lot more primitive. Following in Jenner’s footsteps, Louis Pasteur, considered to be the father of microbiology, conducted experiments with injectable bacteria strains, culminating in the discovery of natural immune defences. In 1885, Pasteur carried out the first artificial vaccine trial in humans.
Advances continued to be made in the following years: in 1901 the Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner created the ABO system of blood typing, which made blood transfusions possible, and in 1921 the Romanian scientist Nicolae Paelescu discovered insulin from bovine extracts.
The breakthrough finally came thanks to the chemical research of Paul Berg, who in 1980 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of recombinant DNA. He created what is known as a “plasmid” (a circular fragment of DNA) from one section of DNA and one of bacteria, which can be applied to medicines like insulin. Recombinant DNA technology thus enabled highly complex structures to be created. Now isn’t that interesting?

Monoclonal antibodies

Now for some more history…
The forbear to monoclonal antibodies was hybridisation, developed in 1969 by Gall and Pardue. An antigen (foreign molecule originating from outside the body) was injected into a mammal in order to create antibodies. This technique led to the creation of monoclonal antibodies. As has already been mentioned, until 1970 biopharmaceuticals had to be extracted from humans and animals.
So you may be thinking…that is all well and good, but who is responsible for creating monoclonal antibodies?
This discovery is down to the work of César Milstein and Georges Köhler, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984 for their production method. By fusing lymphocytes (lymphatic cells) with myeloma (tumour) cells, they were able to create an immortal cell line capable of producing specific antibodies.
As we know, monoclonal antibodies play a key role today in the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Their history and journey is certainly an interesting one, and is particularly relevant for the future of patients all over the world.


1796: Edward Jenner created the vaccination system.
1885: Louis Pasteur carried out the first artificial vaccine trial in humans.
1901: Karl Landsteiner created the ABO system of blood typing.
1921: Nicolae Paelescu discovered insulin.
1980: Paul Berg won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of recombinant DNA.
1969: Gall and Pardue developed their hybridisation technique.
1970: Until 1970, biopharmaceuticals had to be extracted from humans and animals.
1984: César Milstein and Georges Köhler are considered to be the creators of monoclonal antibodies.