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Two scientists (Professor James P Allison from the University of Texas and Professor Tasuku Honjo from Kyoto University) who discovered how to fight cancer using the body’s immune system have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine. The scientists found that the body’s own immune system could be turned on cancers, marking a major breakthrough in our fight against the disease. The prize was worth 9 million Swedish kronor or roughly £800,000.
Professor Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system and developed this concept (CTLA-4 blocking antibodies) into a new approach for treating patients. On the other hand, Professor Honjo discovered a protein (PD-1) on immune cells and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action, which proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.
More than 1,100 PD-1-related trials are under way. So far, the medications are contributing to remarkable remissions in people with lung and skin cancers, but Allison is hopeful they will soon be applied to more stubborn cancers such as breast, prostate and colon. New studies are already finding ways to use lower, less frequent doses of these standard therapies to awaken the immune system enough in cancers to then make the checkpoint inhibitors more effective. Immunotherapy is now one of the significant domains in oncology and is expected to transform the way that many cancers are treated in the coming years.
Immune checkpoint therapy has revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way doctors view how cancer can be managed. Last year, the Nobel prize for similar category was offered to three scientists, Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W Young, who made pioneering discoveries about how the body clock works in humans.
– Victor Mukherjee,