Professor Rabbitts obtained his PhD at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, in 1971. He became a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, in the Institute of Animal Genetics, followed by a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Cesar Milstein’s lab at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He became a Group Leader at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1978 and the Director at the Leeds Institute for Molecular Medicine (LIMM) in 2007.
He was Professor of Molecular Biology in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in the University of Oxford.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society, a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an EMBO Member, and has been the recipient of the Colworth medal, CIBA prize and the Clotten Foundation Prize in recognition for his work on the diversity and rearrangement of human antibody genes and chromosomal translocation genes. In 2022, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association of Cancer Research Academy.
He has significant experience with biotechnology, having been the chairman of the scientific advisory boards of Cambridge Antibody Technology until its stock market launch, and of Quadrant Healthcare until its acquisition by Elan, as well as of Kymab. He is currently an advisor to several start-up biotech companies, and is a co-founder of both Orbit Discovery and Quadrucept Bio Ltd.
Professor Rabbitts' research focuses on developing technologies using intracellular antibody fragments and small molecule derivatives, mainly aimed at targeting chromosomal translocation protein products. His achievements span several disciplines within molecular biology, including human antibody gene diversity, chromosomal translocations in cancer and pre-clinical modelling of chromosomal translocations.
At The Institute of Cancer Research, Professor Rabbitts works closely with our Medicinal Chemistry teams, headed up Professor Ian Collins, to explore how his expertise in intracellular antibody selection technology will help to identify difficult-to-drug targets.
Professor Rabbitts’ team uses molecular biology to establish new technologies to study and target cancer, particularly chromosomal translocation genes that affect proliferation and differentiation from cancer initiating cells to overt cancer and in epithelial cancers, to invasive disease.
The main ongoing theme of his work involves establishing technologies to target protein function inside cells particularly protein-protein interactions, using antibody fragments (with novel warheads) as drug surrogates for functional ablation of target proteins (intracellular immunotherapy programme). By isolating small molecules that mirror the inhibitory properties of the intracellular antibody fragments, the goal is to develop specific and potent reagents to study cancer development and drug-like molecules as leads for therapeutic drug development.
A major problem in using intracellular antibody fragments in therapy is delivery into cancer cells and this is being tackled using lipid nanoparticle delivery approaches.
Thus, to facilitate drug delivery (both intracellular antibody fragments, that he calls these macrodrugs to distinguish these from conventional drugs, and derived small molecules), he is examining cell surface protein expression in tumours to define cell surface proteins that could be used for homing of therapeutics, such as their nanoparticles that have encapsulated macrodrugs or small molecules derived from the macrodrugs.
Professor Rabbitts joined the Institute of Cancer Research in March 2020. Work in his lab is funded by the ICR, by Blood Cancer UK, and by the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund.