The three-page letter was buried deep in the Aug. 7, 1975, issue of the journal Nature. It described a method of producing huge quantities of very pure, very precise antibodies, the disease-fighting guided missiles of the immune system. The technique, said Authors César Milstein and Georges Köhler of the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge, England, "could be valuable for medical and industrial use," although Milstein worried about such conjecture being "immodest."

Nine years later that prediction has proved to be an enormous understatement. Monoclonal antibodies have revolutionized biomedical research and are...

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