Cancer immunotherapy pioneers win medicine Nobel
Discoveries about ways to harness the immune system to attack cancer have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. James Allison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan each discovered ways to remove the immune system’s “brakes” that prevent it from attacking tumor cells.
Such cancer immunotherapies have revolutionized treatment of certain types of cancer, causing previously untreatable tumors in some patients to shrink to almost nothing.
“James Allison studied a known protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors,” the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute said in an announcement this morning. “He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients.”
“In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.”
“Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer. The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer.”
“The time is right. Patients have been treated for several years now and we can now see the long-term outcome. It’s very convincing.”
Klas Kärre, Karolinska Institute
“The time is right,” Klas Kärre, an immunologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and a member of the Nobel Committee told a press conference. “The first approved drug based on this treatment came in 2011. Patients have been treated for several years now and we can now see the long-term outcome. It’s very convincing.”
Science named cancer immunotherapy the Breakthrough of the Year in 2013. An overview of the field is in this special issue from March 2018.
This story will be updated throughout the day.