Scientists behind game-changing cancer immunotherapies win Nobel medicine prize

Gwen Vasquez
October 3, 2018

"Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said, on awarding 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.28 million Cdn).

Allison's work explored how a protein can function as a brake on the immune system, and how the immune cells can combat tumors if the brake is released. In 1992, his lab found another off-switch for T-cells embedded in their membranes: a protein called PD-1.

The drugs marked an entirely new way to treat tumors, a kind of immunotherapy that uses the patient's own body to kill cancer cells.

"We now have two drugs or more than two drugs that are based on their seminal work that we use everyday in the clinic to take care of patients with melanoma, lung cancer, kidney cancer".

Jim Allison, the chairman of the center's Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for the pair's pioneering research into cancer treatment.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Tasuku Honjo voiced hope on Tuesday that Japan would invest more in science, a day after he was chosen for this year's award in physiology or medicine along with American James Allison for their studies on cancer therapy.

Prior to the discoveries made by this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology winners, progress into clinical development of new cancer treatments was slow.

James Allison of the U.S. and Tasuku Honjo of Japan won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

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"We know that some patients have a very low chance of responding. those with little evidence that these pathways are actively restricting the immune system, or those with cancers that are less heavily mutated", he said. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday. Before protein inhibitors were invented cancer treatments were restricted to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy, however, is less effective for certain cancers such as pancreatic and brain cancer.

What's more, he went on to develop a molecule that could release this emergency brake, allowing the T cells to, at last, seek and destroy their quarry.

The PD-1 protein that Honjo discovered has led to a breakthrough cancer immunotherapy, and earned him the USA journal Science's "Breakthrough of the Year" prize in 2013.

Pharmaceuticals for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases have resulted from their research, as well as anti-bodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.

Other Nobel Prizes for 2018 will be announced from October 2 to October 8, 2018. This is obviously a proud day for me as an alumnus of UW and we should all be proud of our work supporting Physics in Canada. "But now I am able to play golf again". In May, the academy announced that no prize would be awarded this year. "They are living proof of the power of basic science", he added.

Charles Swanton, chief clinician at the charity Cancer Research UK, said the scientists' work had revolutionised cancer and immunotherapy.

But new studies suggest combining a therapy targeting both CTLA-4 and PD-1 can be even more effective, particularly in patients with melanoma.

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