Cancer Immunotherapy pioneers get Nobel Prize in Physiology

Technology has made a considerable contribution to healthcare through telehealth software. But, scientists too have made pioneering contributions to healthcare. Two cancer researchers received the 2018 Noble Prize for Physiology. They have discovered how the immune system can be harnessed to attack tumor cells. This finding has led to the development of immunotherapy drugs.

James P. Allison, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan, share this prestigious award. During the 1990s, Allison in his laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley was one of the scientists who discovered that the protein CTLA-4 works as a brake on a type of immune cell known as T cells.

He developed an antibody that blocked the way it worked and later he began investigating whether this blockade could free the T-cell brake and unleash the immune system to attack cancer cells. The first experiment was conducted at the end of 1994 with spectacular results. Mice with cancer were cured with an anti-CTLA-4 agent.

The work of Allison and Honjo led to the development of several drugs, including ipilimumab (Yervoy), the first immunotherapy drug, and the PD-1 inhibitors nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).