Nobel for Helping the Immune System Fight Cancer

Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries leading to new approaches in harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, the award-giving body announced on Monday.

The 9-million-kronor (US$1.01 million) prize will be shared by James Allison of the University of Texas and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University. Research by Allison at the University of Texas in the U.S. and Honjo at Japan's Kyoto University explored how the body's immune system can be harnessed to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells.

The Nobel committee cited Allison's study of a protein called CTLA-4 that functions as a brake on the immune system. Meanwhile, Honjo separately discovered a second protein on immune cells that also acted as a brake but with a different mechanism.

One of Carter's treatments was a drug that blocked the immune-cell "brake" studied by Honjo. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed".

Allison's research was conducted at the University of California, Berkeley.

"While most researchers investigating cancer immunology were advocating vaccines to turn "on" T cells to drive antitumor immune responses, Dr. Allison was proposing the opposite-to block the "off" signal, according to the ASCO Post, a newspaper that covers cancer research". For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge". The first anti-PD-1 drugs were pembrolizumab (Merck's Keytruda), and nivolumab (Bristol-Myers Sqibb's Opdivo), both initially approved in 2014 for the treatment of melanoma: Both block the PD-1 (programmed cell death 1) protein on the surface of the immune system T cells, with the result that those cells attack and, sometimes, eliminate the tumor.

"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told the AP.

"However, advanced cancer remains immensely hard to treat, and novel therapeutic strategies are desperately needed", the Nobel Assembly said.

No literature prize is being given this year.

Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow.

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