UC Berkeley research led to Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy

James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, by the Nobel committee of the Karolinska Institute.

'Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer, ' the assembly said in a statement.

While chemotherapy destroys cancerous cells along with normal cells - often with toxic and debilitating effects on a patient - immunotherapy unleashes the body's immune system to target tumour cells.

The discoveries by Allison, 70, and Honjo, 76, "absolutely paved the way for a new approach to cancer treatment", Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, told The Associated Press. Called PD-1, this protein, he found, functions as a T-cell brake but via a different mechanism than CTLA-4 uses.

The academy said that this year's Nobel Prize constitutes a landmark in the fight against cancer.

Jim Allison, the chairman of the center's Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for the pair's pioneering research into cancer treatment.

Allison's drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma.

A study released in June tested a form of immunotherapy against chemo for non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common lung cancer worldwide. An immunologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin, he focused on a type of immune system cell called the T cell or T lymphocyte, which plays a key role in fighting off bacterial and viral infections as well as cancer.




In this video about UC Berkeley's new Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI), Allison discusses his groundbreaking work on cancer immunotherapy.

"Science advances on the efforts of many", Allison said. Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer. In a statement Monday, he urged more support for basic science research.

"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.

Tasuku Honjo, distinguished professor at Kyoto University, speaks at a news conference at the university in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward on October 1, 2018, after it was announced that he has won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine.

The two scientists will share the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.01 million) that comes with the prize.

"The goal is to neutralise these molecules, among them CTLA-4 and PD-1, and these are what the recipients of the Nobel prize have been working on", said Pierre Goldstein, emeritus professor at the Marseille-Luminy Immunology Centre.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes to be handed out each year.

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