Borel, Jean-François (1933- )

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Borel, Jean-FranÇois (1933- )

Belgian immunologist

Jean-François Borel is one of the discoverers of cyclosporin. The compound is naturally produced by a variety of fungus, where is acts as an antibiotic to suppress bacterial growth . Borel's research in the late 1970s demonstrated that in addition to the antibiotic activity, cyclosporin could act as an immunosupressant. This latter property of the compound has been exploited in limiting the rejection of transplanted organs in humans.

Borel was born in Antwerp, Belgium. After undergraduate studies in that city, he studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He obtained his Ph.D. in immunogenetics 1964. From there he obtained training in veterinary immunogenetics. In 1965, he moved to the Swiss Research Institute Department of Medicine where he studied immunology , particularly the inflammatory response. Five years later, he joined the scientific staff at Sandoz (now Novartis). He has been director of the immunology and microbiology departments at this company. Since 1983, Borel has been Vice-President of the Pharma division of Novartis. Since 1981, Borel has also been a professor of immunopharmacology in the medical faculty at the University of Bern.

In 1971, Borel isolated a compound (subsequently called cyclosporin) from a sample of the fungus Beauvaria nivea that was obtained during a hike by a Sandoz employee who had vacationed in the United States. Analyses by Borel showed that, unlike other immunosupressants then known, the isolated compound selectively suppressed the T cells of the immune system . The compound was obtained in pure from in 1973. By the end of that decade, Borel had demonstrated the antirejection powers of the drug in humans.

During this period, Borel is remembered for having tested the putative immunosupressant drug on himself. The compound was found to be insoluble. When Borel dissolved some of the compound in alcohol (subsequently, the use of olive oil as an emulsifier proved more efficient) and drank it, the compound subsequently appeared in his blood. This was a major finding, indicating that the compound might be amenable to injection so as to control the immune rejection of transplanted organs.

There has been a controversy as to whether Borel or another Sandoz scientist (Harold Stähelin) was primarily responsible for the discovery of cyclosporin. Both were actively involved at various stages in the purification and testing of the compound, and the primary contribution is difficult to assign. Nonetheless, it was Borel who first established the immunosuppressant effect of cyclosporin, during routine testing of compounds isolated from fungi for antibiotic activity.

Beginning in the 1980s, cyclosporin was licensed for use in transplantations. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have successfully received organ transplants, where none would have before the discovery of cyclosporin.

The research of Borel and his colleagues inspired the search for other immunosupressant therapies. In recognition of his fundamental achievement to the advancement of organ transplantation, Borel received the prestigious Gairdner Award in 1986.

See also Antibody and antigen; Immunosuppressant drugs