On the shoulders of giants


Cristina Rondinone, Ph.D

Last week, the University of Cambridge hosted two Nobel laureates Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein as part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative. Their visit was particularly significant for me and my colleagues working in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease (CVMD) at MedImmune. When Drs. Brown and Goldstein were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1985 for their discovery of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor, it led the way for those of us who have since focused our work on this important area of research.

At the basic level, their work opened the field of receptor-mediated endocytosis. At the clinical level, it helped lay the groundwork for the development of statins, those drugs that lower blood LDL-cholesterol and help to prevent heart attacks.

Today, we’re honored to be on the forefront of many research initiatives that are the result of these breakthroughs. This includes the exploration of unique pathways that could lead to new combination or standalone biologic therapies for patients living with chronic and acute cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as our work in developing ways to target lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase, LCAT. This enzyme is a key component in the reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) system, and may be critical in the management of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and lead to new drugs for acute coronary syndrome (ACS).

We’re able to do these investigations now because of the work of these giants, who have essentially given us the chance to shift treatment models for patients living with these serious and life-threatening conditions. For us, specifically, this means an intense focus on innovative therapeutic approaches that capitalize on the potential of biologics to deliver unsurpassed efficacy and safety.

Of course, equally important is that Drs. Brown and Goldstein were here and able to share their insights with many young researchers. Beside the fact of their discovery, are their stories of collaboration—with peers, across disciplines and with industry, academia and other private partners. That spirit of collaboration is crucial and a key component of our work here, including some important CVMD alliances of our own with organizations such as AlphaCore, NGM Biopharmaceuticals and, most recently, Shionogi.

And, then there are their stories of perseverance. Getting this perspective—the sweat and dedication, the stops and starts, and the frustrations and ultimate victories that these two famed individuals experienced (and still experience in their current work) is immeasurable toward encouraging our own people. It’s precisely the kind of inspiration that speaks to the minds and motivations of students and scientists—one or some of whom are potential future Nobel laureates themselves.