Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Sulston was a biologist. He played a central role in sequencing the genome of the Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent nematode (roundworm). It was the first animal to have its genome sequenced. Based on his work with the nematode Sulston helped set up the project to sequence the human genome which he did as director of the Sanger Centre. The first draft of the human genome sequence was completed in 2000. In 2002 he shared the Nobel Prize for identifying how genes regulate the life cycle of cells through apoptosis. 2018-03-09T00:00:00+0000Douglas Waters, an 86 year old patient at Moorfield Eye Hospital in London gained improved eyesight in his right eye after having stem cells inserted underneath the rods and cones in the back of his eye. The stem cells were grown in a patch and were designed to provide new retinal pigment epithelium. While the patient's eyesight was not completely restored, he gained a renewed ability to read the newspaper. Another patient with the same condition who received the same treatment also experienced some improvements to her eyesight. Both patients, who were taking part in a phase I trial, maintained improved vision for a year after the treatment. The results were published in L da Cruz, K Fynes, O Georgiadis et al, 'Phase 1 clinical study of an embryonic stem cell–derived retinal pigment epithelium patch in age-related macular degeneration', Nature Biotechnology, 36 (2018) 328-37. 2018-03-19T00:00:00+0000The aim of the drug is to mute hepatitis B genes to give the immune system a chance to fight the hepatitis B infection.2018-03-27T00:00:00+0000Twenty-two patients were treated in the trial over 42 months in six centres around the world. The treatment consisted of taking immature stem cells from the patient's bone marrow and using a harmless virus to infect the cells with a copy of the normal globin gene. The new genetically altered cells were then reintroduced into the patient's bloodstream after their marrow had been cleared of diseased cells using chemotherapy. Nine out of the twenty-two patients severe beta thalassemia were able to cut down on the number of transfusions they needed by 74%, with three of them no longer needing any transfusions at all. The same was true of the twelve out of thirteen patients with less severe thalassemia. A A Thompson et al, 'Gene therapy in patients with transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia', New England Journal of Medicine, 378 (2018), 1479-93.2018-04-19T00:00:00+0000Developed by Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, the drug, ARC-520, is administered with the antiviral entecavir. The treatment cleared the HBsAg from one patient and substantially reduced it in the remaining patients. The results were presented to the European Association for the Study of the Liver. 2018-05-02T00:00:00+0000Falkow was an American microbiologist who made his scientific mark by showing how bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. During the 1960s he demonstrated that bacteria could could acquire resistance by swapping genetic material via plasmids, small microbial DNA molecules. Thereafter he focused his attention on how pathogens cause disease and in 1985 helped to identify a single genetic locus in Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, a Gram-negative bacteria, that accounts for its ability to infect cultured animal cells. He later showed that a sub-type of E. coli caused a life-threatening diarrhoea prevalent in many low-income countries. Known as the founder of molecular pathogenesis, Falkow's work paved the way to the development of new vaccines, including for whooping cough. He also helped to devise a uniform nomenclature for bacterial plasmids2018-05-05T00:00:00+0000Falkow was an American microbiologist who made his scientific mark by showing how bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. During the 1960s he demonstrated that bacteria could could acquire resistance by swapping genetic material via plasmids, small microbial DNA molecules. Thereafter he focused his attention on how pathogens cause disease and in 1985 helped to identify a single genetic locus in Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, a Gram-negative bacteria, that accounts for its ability to infect cultured animal cells. He later showed that a sub-type of E. coli caused a life-threatening diarrhoea prevalent in many low-income countries. Known as the founder of molecular pathogenesis, Falkow's work paved the way to the development of new vaccines, including for whooping cough. He also helped to devise a uniform nomenclature for bacterial plasmids2018-05-05T00:00:00+0000Skou was a Danish biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997 for discovering an ion-transporting enzyme called sodium-potassium-activated adenosine triphosphatase (Na+-K+ ATPase), which is found in the plasma membrane of animal cells. The enzyme is important to the transport of molecules through a cell's membrane. Skou made the discovery in the late 1950s. A number of other similar ATPase-based enzymes were discovered later, including one that helps control muscle contraction.2018-05-28T00:00:00+0000Boyer was an American biochemist and analytical chemist renowned for helping to understand the enzymatic mechanism involved in the production of the energy-storage molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels the metabolic processes of all living things. This he did in the 1970s whle based at UCLA where he was the founding director of the university's Molecular Biology Institute. In 1997 Boyer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on ATP synthesis.2018-06-02T00:00:00+0000The test analyses a group of 21 genes found in breast cancer and works out what the risk is of cancer recurring. A trial supported by the National Cancer Institute with 10,273 patients with the most common forms of breast cancer, showed that the test was highly accurate in determining which women would benefit most from chemotherapy after an operation to remove the cancer and who could be safely spared such treatment. The trial was led by Joseph A Sparano at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, New York. Results from the trial, presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology in California in Chicago, were described by doctors as 'practice changing'. The test, called Oncotype DX, was developed by Genomic Health, a Californian diagnostics company. The trial's results were published in JA Sparano, et al, 'Adjuvant chemotherapy guided by a 21-gene expression assay in breast cancer', New England Journal of Medicine, 379 (July 12 2018), 111-21. 2018-07-12T00:00:00+0000The phase 1/2 trial is designed to test the genome-editing technique in patients with transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder. Sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics the trial is being conducted at a single hospital in Regensburg Germany and will recruit 12 adults. It is testing CTX001, a gene-editing therapy that targets a region of DNA that acts like a brake on production of fetal haemoglobin, a type of haemoglobin that the body usually stops producing after the first months of life. Treatment involves taking blood from the patient and genetically altering them in the laboratory so that they when reintroduced into the patient are able to produce red blood cells that contain fetal haemoglobulin. 2018-08-27T00:00:00+0000Allison helped to demonstrate the importance of blocking CTLA-4, a protein found on T-cells, for cancer treatment, which laid the foundation for the development of ipilimumab. Honjo discovered, PD-1, another type of protein found on T-cells which cancer cells were subsequently discovered to hijack to evade attack by the immune system. 2018-10-01T00:00:00+0000The researchers inserted genetic instructions into a virus called enadenotuvirev to produce a protein, called a bispecific T-cell engager. Already being clinically tested for treating carcinomas the virus has been bred to infect only cancer cells and leave healthy ones alone. The objective is to hijack the virus's machinery so that the T-cell engager is only produced in infected cancer cells and nowhere else in the body. Such an approach aims to kill both carcinoma cells and adjacent cells that are tricked into shielding the cancer from destruction from the immune system. Funded by the MRC and Cancer Research UK, the scientists successfully tested the innovative viral delivery system on fresh human cancer samples collected from consenting patients, including solid prostate cancedr tumours. The results were published in JD Freedman et al, 'An Oncolytic Virus Expressing a T-cell Engager Simultaneously Targets Cancer and Immunosuppressive Stromal Cells', Cancer Research (2018), 1-14. 2018-11-16T00:00:00+0000Born in Lithuania, Klug was a chemist and biophysicist who won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of crystallographic electron microscopy, a method that combines electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to determine the three-dimensional structure of complex biological materials not amenable to conventional x-ray crystallography alone. The technique provided him with the tool to make many discoveries with his team into nucleic acid-protein complexes. He also made a number of discoveries concerning the structure of viruses. His interest in viruses began g after a chance encounter with Rosalind Franklin in late 1953 with whom he collaborated. Klug also discovered zinc-finger proteins, a class of proteins that bind specific DNA sequences. The modular nature of the proteins is now being harnessed to design synthetic proteins for targeted therapies. The son of Jewish parents, Klug migrated with his parents to South Africa where he stayed until he completed his master's degree and then went to England. He was the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (1986-1996) and President of the Royal Society (1995-2000).2018-11-20T00:00:00+0000He Jiankui, a genome-editing researcher at Southern University of Science and Technology of China, reported transplanting embryos into a woman that he had edited with CRISPR-Cas9 to disable a gene called CCR5, to disable the genetic pathway HIV uses to infect cells. More than 100 Chinese biomerical researchers condemned the experiment and called on Chinese authorities to investigate the case and introduce strict regulations. 2018-11-24T00:00:00+0000The project, led by Genomics England in partnership with the NHS, sequenced the DNA of both cancer patients and those with rare disorders. Overall 15,000 cancer patients had their DNA analysed, half of whom went on to take part in a clinical trial or receive targeted treatment. One in four participants with rare diseases who had their genomes sequenced received a diagnosis for the first time, thereby paving the way to getting effective treatment. All the sequencing was carried out by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, in laboratories run by Illumina, a Californian biotechnology company. 2018-12-05T00:00:00+0000A team of managed to reprogramme the skin cells into dendritic cells. These immune cells search the body's tissues for foreign particles, such as bacteria, viruses or cancer cells, and devour them. The team identified three essential proteins (PU.1, IRF8 and BATF3) that are required to transform the the skin cells into dendritic cells. The process takes only 9 days and opens the possibility of developing novel dendritic cell-based immunotherapies against cancer. The research was published in FF Rosa et al, 'Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into antigen-presenting dendritic cells', Science Immunology, 3/30 (2018) eaau4292, DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aau42922018-12-07T00:00:00+0000The efficacy of the technique was tested in mice genetically modified to have only one working copy of genes known to regulate satiety (Sim1) and hunger (MC4R). CRISPRa was shown to increase the expression of the genes in the mice. Mice that had missing one copy of the Sim1 gene that received CRISPRa injections were found to maintain a healthy body weight like normal mice, whereas those that did not get the injections could not stop eating and developed severe obesity on a normal diet. The research was published in N Matharu et al, 'CRISPR-mediated activation of a promoter or enhancer rescues obesity caused by haploinsufficiency', Science 362/6420 (2018) eaau0629, DOI: 10.1126/science.aau06292018-12-14T00:00:00+0000Scientists found that it was possible to stop tumour growth in both tissue culture and in a mouse by disabling the tumour gene, NRF2, that helps the tumours develop resistance to drugs. They achieved this by using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system. The work was led by Eric Kmiec at the Gene Editing Institute of the Helen F Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute, USA. It was published in P Bialk, Y Wang, K Banas, E B Kmiec, ' Functional Gene Knockout of NRF2 Increases Chemosensitivity of Human Lung Cancer A549 Cells In Vitro and in a Xenograft Mouse Model', Molecular Therapy Oncolytics', 11 (Dec 21 2018), DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.omto.2018.10.0022018-12-21T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
9 Mar 2018John E Sulson diedSulstonLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Sanger InstituteCell, Genetics, DNA sequencing
19 Mar 2018Stem cell treatment reported to be promising treatment for age-related macular degenerationda Cruz, Fynes, Georgiadis, Kerby, Luo, Ahmado, Vernon, CoffeyUniversity College LondonStem cells
27 Mar 2018Dosing trial launched with humans to test use of RNA interference drug to treat hepatitis B Arrowhead PharmaceuticalsRNA interference
19 Apr 2018Gene therapy shown to be promising treatment in clinical trials for beta thalassemiaThompson, Walters, Kwiatkowski, Rasko, Ribeil, Hongeng, Magrin, Schiller, Payen, Smeraro, Moshous, LefrerNorth Western University, University of California San Francisco, University of California Los Angeles, University of Sydney, University of Paris, Harvard University, Mahidol University, German Cancer Research CentreGene therapy
2 May 2018Positive results for RNAi drug for treating chronic hepatitis b reported from 8-person clinical trial Arrowhead PharmaceuticalsRNA interference
5 May 2018Stanley Falkow diedFalkowGeorgetown University School of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Stanford UniversityAntimicrobial resistance, Plasmids
5 May 2018Stanley Falkow diedFalkowGeorgetown University School of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Stanford UniversityAntimicrobial resistance, Plasmids
28 May 2018Jens C Skou diedSkouAarhus UniversityCell, Biochemistry
2 Jun 2018Paul D Boyer diedPaul BoyerUniversity of California, Los AngelesBiochemistry
12 Jul 2018Genetic test shown to accurately predict which women benefit from chemotherapySparanoGenomic HealthDNA sequencing, Genomics, Oncology
27 Aug 2018First CRISPR-Cas9 clinical trial launched Vertex Pharmaceuticals, CRSIPR TherapeuticsCRISPR-Cas9, Gene therapy
1 Oct 2018James Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of immune checkpoint inhibitors for cancer therapyAllison, HonjoUniversity of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Kyoto UniversityCancer immunotherapy, Immune checkpoint inhibitors, Oncology
16 Nov 2018Virus genetically engineered to kill cancer cells opening new immunotherapy avenueFreedman, Duffy, Lei-Rossman, Muntzer, Scott, Hagel, Campo, Bryant, Verrill, Lambert, Miller, Champion, Seymour, Fisher, RichardsonOxford UniversityCancer immunotherapy
20 Nov 2018Aaron Klug diedKlugBirkbeck College, Laboratory of Molecular BiologyX ray crystallography, RNA, Zinc fingers, Virology
24 Nov 2018First gene-edited babies announced by Chinese scientistJiankuiSouthern University of Science and Technology of ChinaCRISPR-Cas9, Reproduction
5 Dec 2018Genomics England completed sequencing 100,000 whole genomesCaulfieldSanger Institute, IlluminaDNA sequencing, Genomics
7 Dec 2018Mouse and human skin cells reprogrammed into immune cells to fight cancerRosa, Pires, Kurtochkin, Ferreira, Gomes, Palma, Shaiv, Solanas, Azenha, Papatsenko, Schulz, Reis e Sousa, Carlos-Filipe Lund University, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Francis Crick InstituteCancer immunotherapy, Stem cells
14 Dec 2018New gene modification technique (CRISPRa) makes it possible to increase expression of its target geneMatharu, Rattanasopha, Tamura, Maliskova, Wang, Bernard, Hardin, Eckalbar, Vaisse, AhituvUniversity of California San FranciscoCRISPR-Cas9
21 Dec 2018CRISPR-Cas9 editing helped restore effectiveness of first-line chemotherapies for lung cancerKmiec, Bialk, Wang, Hanas Helen F Graham Cancer Center and Research InstituteCRISPR-Cas9, Oncology

9 Mar 2018

John E Sulson died

19 Mar 2018

Stem cell treatment reported to be promising treatment for age-related macular degeneration

27 Mar 2018

Dosing trial launched with humans to test use of RNA interference drug to treat hepatitis B

19 Apr 2018

Gene therapy shown to be promising treatment in clinical trials for beta thalassemia

2 May 2018

Positive results for RNAi drug for treating chronic hepatitis b reported from 8-person clinical trial

5 May 2018

Stanley Falkow died

5 May 2018

Stanley Falkow died

28 May 2018

Jens C Skou died

2 Jun 2018

Paul D Boyer died

12 Jul 2018

Genetic test shown to accurately predict which women benefit from chemotherapy

27 Aug 2018

First CRISPR-Cas9 clinical trial launched

1 Oct 2018

James Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of immune checkpoint inhibitors for cancer therapy

16 Nov 2018

Virus genetically engineered to kill cancer cells opening new immunotherapy avenue

20 Nov 2018

Aaron Klug died

24 Nov 2018

First gene-edited babies announced by Chinese scientist

5 Dec 2018

Genomics England completed sequencing 100,000 whole genomes

7 Dec 2018

Mouse and human skin cells reprogrammed into immune cells to fight cancer

14 Dec 2018

New gene modification technique (CRISPRa) makes it possible to increase expression of its target gene

21 Dec 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 editing helped restore effectiveness of first-line chemotherapies for lung cancer