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Letter from the editor | 223

Complex tasks

This issue’s cover article is the result of the Pesquisa FAPESP team’slong-term monitoring of a subject of abiding interest: finding out whether the use of monoclonal antibodies, one of the most promising cancer therapies, can really be effective against tumors. Now there is important news. This year, six Swedish women who have had surgery or undergone chemotherapy for ovarian cancer will receive an experimental compound containing monoclonal antibodies, developed for the first time in Brazil for use in humans. This complementary treatment is aimed at eliminating cancer cells that might have escaped prior surgery or chemotherapy, thereby preventing tumors from recurring or metastasizing. A clinical trial will be conducted in Gothenburg, Sweden, due to operational reasons. The drug to be tested, however, was developed by Brazilian institutions and a Brazilian company.

The testing in Gothenburg represents another step in the process of transforming the compound, presently called RebmAb200, into a remedy. Pesquisa FAPESP has followed along on this journey since the Monoclonal Antibodies Laboratory was opened at the Butantan Institute (Issue No. 137) in 2007, in partnership with the private biotechnology company Recepta Biopharma. In early 2013 (Issue No.204), we announced that the first highly productive, stable lines of monoclonal antibody-producing cells had been obtained through the collaborative efforts of the laboratory/company partnership. And in this issue’s cover story, we give a detailed account of the process used to develop the compound for testing in Sweden. If the results are good, the clinical trial will be expanded to 100 more women. For now, the compound will target ovarian cancer, though these antibodies may also be effective against tumors of the lungs and kidneys.

Even if the results are not good, there are still reasons to celebrate. The fact that the drug has reached the clinical trial stage is considered a rare success story in technological development, as explained by our Science Editor Ricardo Zorzetto, who wrote the article appearing on page 16. The entire process involved public institutions, such as the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Butantan Institute, and a private company, Recepta, all of which received funding from research-sponsoring agencies such as FAPESP and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (Finep), in addition to private resources.


This month’s issue features another story about complex tasks, this time focusing on a single person, 35-year-old Rio de Janeiro-based researcher Artur Ávila. In August 2014 he became the first South American recipient of the Fields Medal, the highest international award in the field of mathematics, awarded by the International Mathematics Union to researchers under 40. Ávila received the award jointly with three other mathematicians, from Austria, Canada and Iran—the latter given to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman thus honored. In an interview with our Special Editor Marcos Pivetta, on page 26, he points to another rarity: “It’s the first time a prize winner has completed all of his education through the doctoral level in a developing country, rather than Japan, the United States, Israel or some part of Europe.” Ávila received his master’s degree while still an adolescent, and completed his PhD at the age of 21 at the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA) in Rio. He then went to France, and today he divides his time between IMPA and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. His principal field of research is dynamic systems, whose objective is to develop a theory capable of predicting the long-term evolution of natural and human phenomena.


Other highlights of this issue include a timely meeting on scientific integrity, held in São Paulo (page 36); an explanation of the origin of the Amazon River (page 54); the establishment of an optical device factory in Campinas (page 62); and a comprehensive analysis of Brazil’s rural economy in the 21st century (page 74).

Enjoy your reading!