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Rustat Conference on Health Innovation: A Cambridge Success Story

On 29 January 2013, this Rustat Conference considered Cambridge's role speeding forward developments in the crucial field of medicine and its implications for society.

The Conference began with the story of how the development of monoclonal antibodies and their applications as medicines have transformed prospects for people suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Specifically, we illustrated these advances through the example of multiple sclerosis, the most common disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord affecting young adults in developed countries. The original research on developing monoclonal antibodies in the 1970s won Cambridge scientists, the late Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984. Subsequent studies in Cambridge adapted this technology and led to production of the first humanised monoclonal antibody for use as a medicine by Greg Winter and Herman Waldmann, amongst others, each of whom will be presenting at the meeting. Collaborative research has continued in Cambridge to the present.

Campath-1H (Cambridge, Pathology 1st Human; now renamed Alemtuzumab) was originally developed as a designer drug for the removal of blood lymphocytes, the main cell-type responsible for immunological responses and known to be involved in several autoimmune diseases. It was first used as one approach to the treatment of inflamed blood vessels (vasculitis) and rheumatoid arthritis, and also as a means of avoiding rejection of organ transplants. Eventually the drug was licenced for the treatment of chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Starting with treatment of a first patient in 1991, Alemtuzumab has subsequently been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Decisions on applications to the Food and Drugs Administration in the United States and the European Medicines Agency in Europe for licencing the indication of early relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis are expected early in 2013.

The Conference partners included the University of Cambridge Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in association with Rustat Conferences.  The Agenda was as follows:

1. Experimental medicine and National Institute of Health Research

Prof. Ian White Master, Jesus College and Van Eck Professor of Engineering
Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge

2. Monoclonal antibodies as medicines

Dr Alan Munro, Christ's College, Cambridge
Prof. Herman Waldmann, Professor emeritus of Pathology, Oxford University
Sir Greg Winter, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge

3. Experimental Medicine: Innovation and impact

Prof. Sir Keith Peters, Regius Professor emeritus of Physic, University of Cambridge
Prof. Peter Goodfellow, Scientific Adviser, Abingworth Life Science
Dr David Meeker, Chief Executive Officer, Genzyme, a Sanofi Company

4. Alemtuzumab and clinical medicine

Prof. Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic, University of Cambridge
Prof. Sir Roy Calne, Professor emeritus of Surgery, University of Cambridge
Prof. Alastair Compston, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge
Dr Alasdair Coles, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge
Bea Perks, Medical Writer, InterComm International; Tony Johnstone, Professional golfer

5. Closing discussion

John Cornwell, Director Rustat Conferences, Jesus College, Cambridge