James Allison, Tasuku Honjo win Nobel in medicine
James P Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan have won the 2018 Nobel Medicine
Prize for research that has revolutionised the treatment of cancer.
Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo has been awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a protein that contributed to the development of an immunotherapeutic drug against cancer. Honjo, a 76-year-old professor at Kyoto University, opened a pathway for a new cancer treatment by discovering the PD-1 protein, which is responsible for suppressing immune response.
His method of treating cancer by controlling the protein’s function to suppress immunity led to the development of Nivolumab, a drug marketed as Opdivo and used against lung cancer and melanoma.
In 2006, his research was tested in a clinical trial before Opdivo was finally approved in Japan, in July 2014, and subsequently in the United States and Europe. The work led to a fourth class of treatment alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiation that harnesses the immune system.
Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He found that releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors. The discovery led to effective treatments, specifically some called immune checkpoint blockade therapies.