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September 19, 1986

Fine-tuned and Loaded, Monoclonals Treat Cancer

JAMA. 1986;256(11):1406-1411. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380110012002

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MAGIC BULLET is the term German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich coined in the early 1900s to express his concept of the perfect therapeutic agent. It would be exquisitely selective with the ability to home in on a disease agent while sparing normal tissue. The magic bullet at once became the immunologist's Holy Grail.

When Georges J. F. Köhler, PhD, and César Milstein, PhD, of the Medical Research Council, Cambridge, England, reported in 1975 that they had developed a way to produce monoclonal antibodies—immunoglobulins that are specific for a single antigenic determinant among millions—the words "magic bullet" clattered from the keys of science reporters' typewriters the world around. It looked like the search had come to an end.

In the ensuing decade, Köhler and Milstein have been awarded the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for their discovery, and monoclonal antibodies have made a swift ascent to clinical use. Monoclonal antibodies have