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Nobel laureate Sir Gregory Winter appointed honorary doctor at KTH

Portrait of Sir Gregory P. Winter.
Sir Gregory P. Winter is one of four new honorary doctors at KTH. Photo: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.
Published Sep 02, 2021

In 2018, he shared one half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the phage display method. Now, Sir Gregory P. Winter is one of four new honorary doctors at KTH.

“It´s a pleasure for me,” Winter says. “From time to time over a scientific career you end up having a fond relationship with one institution or another. And actually KTH is one of them.”

Over the years, Winter has had several contacts with KTH – in particular with Mathias Uhlén, professor of microbiology. Winter visited Uhlén´s research group at the Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) while he was in Stockholm to receive the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

“They are a great group and they are also really nice people. The atlas mapping all human proteins is an astonishing effort and a very useful resource,” Winter says.

A large library of antibodies

Winter has worked with proteins throughout his entire career, working first with enzymes then antibodies. Phage display – the method for which he and George P. Smith from the University of Missouri shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018  – can be used to develop new proteins and peptides. Winter first used it to develop human antibody drugs, which can be aimed directly at the disease without affecting the whole body.

Drugs developed using the phage display method are now being used against diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

“The method we developed involved the creation of a huge library of antibodies with many different types of activities and features, from which we select the ones we want: phage display offers an extremely effective means of selection,” Winter says. “In fact, it´s the same way as our immune system works. The immune system also generates a huge number of different antibodies against bacteria and viruses from which it chooses those required to attack the pathogen.”

Made new combinations

In order to create this huge library of antibodies, Winter and his group took genes of human antibodies and shuffled them up. An antibody consists of four polypeptide chains, which themselves consist of two identical heavy chains and two identical light chains.

“This gives us a large repertoire of human antibodies from which we can fish out those with the new properties we need,” Winter says. “These are fully human antibodies. All we have done is alter the combinations of heavy and light chains.”

This research was conducted at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology  at Cambridge University in the early 80s.

Much later, in the early 2000s, the research team used phage display to generate huge libraries of bicyclic peptides, which can also target proteins associated with disease. The peptides can more easily penetrate tissues than antibodies, making it possible to deliver the peptides deep into tumours.

“We decided to call them bicycles, because they are bicyclic peptides,” Winter says. “From this technology, we started the company Bicycle Therapeutics in 2009, which was floated on Nasdaq in 2018. Currently, we are working on using bicycles to target different types of tumors.”

Grew up in Ghana

It was when he grew up in Ghana that Winter became interested in biology. He attended a mission school for children of parents who worked at the University College of the Gold Coast, later of Ghana, where his father lectured in French.

The school was often visited by academics from the university who showed the pupils various objects and artefacts. One day a scientist brought a huge turtle he had caught. Winter asked the researcher what he intended to do with it and was told that he would take it to the laboratory and do various experiments.

“I would hate to think what happened to that poor animal,” Winter says. “But at the same time, it ignited a spark in me. What a life! Going out to catch wild animals and bring them back and do experiments with them.”

Studied at Trinity College

After attending a boarding school near Leicester, where he was born, and a grammar school in Newcastle, Winter chose to study biology and chemistry at Trinity College at Cambridge University, where he got a degree in Natural Sciences, specialising in biochemistry.

When Winter was doing his PhD, he was very interested in protein development. He was working on a protein chemical project, trying to understand the way enzymes evolved – in particular a very early class of enzymes called aminoacyl-tRNAsynthetase.

“They are the enzymes that puts amino acids on to tRNA,” Winter says. “Effectively they specify the genetic code.”

After working with DNA sequencing for some years, Winter returned to studying how proteins and enzymes work. But at the same time, he felt that there had to be something more exciting than that. And there was: antibodies. Winter´s mentor and head of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the time, César Milstein – Nobel laureate in physiology or chemistry in 1984 – encouraged him to work with antibodies.

“He said: `Antibodies are much more interesting than enzymes. You should work with them!´ I am very grateful that he pointed me in that direction.”

Håkan Soold

Another three new honorary doctors

In addition to Sir Gregory P. Winter, three more honorary doctors have been appointed at KTH in 2021: Professor Hilde Heynen, Department of Architecture, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgien; Bo Normark, a leader in electric power technology at EIT InnoEnergy; Professor Martin Vettterli, School of Computer and Communication Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland. These are the honorary degree citations:

Portrait of Hilde Heynen.
Hilde Heynen.

Hilde Heynen is an international role model in architectural research. She has published a number of books of central importance and has been involved in starting the European Network of Architectural History. Hilda Heynen is an editorial board member of a number of highly ranked international journals. Furthermore, she has also played an important role for the development of education in architecture and is a member of the steering group for EAAE (European Association of Architectural Education). Through her long time involvement in architectural research, she has contributed to developing the field into a scientific discipline of its own and has been working on establishing international criteria and guidelines in assessments of architectural research.

Since 2009, Hilda Heynen is a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts. She is also a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Hilda Heynen is a returning guest at KTH and has made many important contributions over the years, including participating in scientific panels, and she is a very important source of inspiration and role model for both researchers and students.

Portrait of Bo Normark.
Bo Normark.

Bo Normark is a legend in electric power technology and later on a pioneer in smart grids and battery systems. He is a visionary and an inspirer who has contributed greatly by creating the conditions for major international investments such as EIT InnoEnergy.The investments have been of great importance for KTH’s excellence and internationally leading role in the area regarding both education and research. In leading positions in business as well as in government, he has played a major role in the development of the entire energy industry in research, innovation and politics. Through an early insight, basically ahead of his time, he has advocated energy storage and electrification as the next steps in the evolution of the energy system.

Bo Normark is a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and over the years he has had a number of important board assignments and advisory assignments for Industrifonden, Svenska Kraftnät, Northvolt, the Swedish Energy Agency and the Government Offices, among others. For much of his career he has been in operation at ABB.

Bo Normark has an almost magical ability to create motivation, trust and relationships with everyone. KTH has often had the privilege of taking part in this.

Portrait of Martin Vetterli.
Martin Vetterli. Photo: EFPL.

Martin Vettterli is a world-leading researcher in digital signal processing. He has contributed in a large number of areas such as mathematical development of wavelets and time frequency analysis of signals, sampling and reproduction of signals, sensor networks and a number of practical applications for video and image processing. He has done innovative work both in theory and in practical application.

Martin Vetterli has received a large number of awards for his research, for example 2017 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal and fellowships from IEEE, ACM and EURASIP; he is an elected member of the US National Academy of Engineering and he received the Swiss Latsis Science Prize in 1996. Since 2017 he is President of EFPL and has previously been CEO of the Swiss Science Council and has held professorships at the University of California Berkeley and Columbia University.

Martin Vetterli has extensive connections to KTH through the CLUSTER network and as a member of the Scientific Council for the Swedish Research Council´s Linnaeus Center ACCESS.

Sir Gregory P. Winter

Age: 70 years

Occupation: “I guess I´m formally retired.”

Education: B.A. degree in Natural Sciences and doctoral degree in molecular biology from Cambridge University.

Some previous awards: Fellow of the Royal Society 1990; he was awarded the Royal Medal 2011, the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine (Molecular Immunology) 1995, the Cancer Research Institute William B. Coley Award 1999, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018.

Place of residence: Suffolk, a 40 minutes drive from Cambridge.

Family: His partner Marina and four adult children.

Hobby: Gardening.

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Last changed: Sep 02, 2021