When Milstein and Köhler first publicised their technique, relatively few people understood its significance. Editors of Nature missed its importance, asking the two scientists to cut short their article outlining the new technique; as did staff at the British National Research Development Corporation, who declined to patent the work after Milstein submitted it for consideration. Within a short period, however, the technique was being adopted by scientists around the world, and less than ten years later Milstein and Köhler were Nobel laureates.

A Transformation in Therapeutic Medicine

In the years that have passed since 1975, Mab drugs have radically reshaped medicine and spawned a whole new industry. It is predicted that 70 Mab products will have reached the worldwide market by 2020, with combined sales of nearly $125bn (£81bn).

Key to the success of Mab drugs are the dramatic changes they have brought to the treatment of cancer, helping in many cases to shift it away from being a terminal disease. Mabs can very specifically target cancer cells while avoiding healthy cells, and can also be used to harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Overall, Mab drugs cause fewer debilitating side-effects than more conventional chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Mabs have also radically altered the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, moving away from merely relieving symptoms to targeting and disrupting their cause.