TWO immunologists, James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer, the jury said on Monday. And the Nobel Peace Prize will be named on Friday.
But this platform of studies and drugs will provide us with the foundation to understand how the immune system is structured and could be reactivated in every person with cancer, to try to solve this puzzle in real-time for each individual.
Allison "realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors", the Nobel jury said during Monday's prize announcement in Stockholm.
James P Allison, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas, studied a known protein, CTLA-4, that functions as a brake on the immune system's killer T-cells.
His research also led to the first-ever immune checkpoint inhibitor drug.
Honjo, also an immunologist, discovered a second receptor called PD-1 that also acted as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.
Allison's ongoing leadership at MD Anderson focuses on improving knowledge of how these drugs work to extend the benefits of immunotherapy to more patients with more types of cancer.
Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee and the Nobel Assembly, told a press conference that Honjo "sounded extremely pleased" at the news. He was still in shock hours later.
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"I had nothing left to lose", Vener said. "I'd like to just give a shout out to all the patients out there who are suffering from cancer to let them know that we are making progress now".
Sharon Vener, 66, is among the small group of patients who signed up for the first clinical trials testing the drug. From 1977-1984 he was a faculty member at University of Texas System Cancer Center, Smithville, Texas; from 1985-2004 at University of California, Berkeley and from 2004-2012 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
Honjo won the Keio Medical Science Prize in 2016. "Doing basic science can have major results in human health care", he says.
Nobel Prize victor Tasuku Honjo of Japan says what makes him most delighted is when he hears from patients who have recovered from serious illness because of his research.
"This year's Chemistry laureates have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind". Patients treated with ipilimumab alone had a median OS of 10 months compared with 6 months for those treated with gp100. More than 20 percent of people using the drug have complete remission from the disease.
Apart from the PD-1 protein, there are other T-cell surface proteins that act as checks on the immune system.
In a statement to reporters after learning of his award, Allison said he was "honored and humbled".
Keio University professor and tumor immunology specialist Yutaka Kawakami, who heads the Japanese Association of Cancer Immunology, commented, "The drug has a significant impact in that it has made immunotherapy a pillar of cancer treatment". This practice contrasts with radiation therapy and standard chemotherapy, which directly attack cancerous tumors.