American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

The two independently propelled the field of immunotherapy, laying the foundations for the development of a number of drugs now approved to treat cancer.

Researchers working under the direction of Allison and Honjo discovered methods of removing constraints on "T cells" that fight invaders by modulating immune responses. 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.

It found that the drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) - which famously helped former United States president Jimmy Carter stave off advanced melanoma that had spread to his brain - helped lung cancer patients live four to eight months longer than chemo. Carter announced in 2016 that he no longer needed treatment.

The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

"Everybody wanted to do chemotherapy and radiation".

"While most researchers investigating cancer immunology were advocating vaccines to turn "on" T cells to drive antitumor immune responses, Dr. Allison was proposing the opposite-to block the "off" signal, according to the ASCO Post, a newspaper that covers cancer research".

"It's like your body uses your own army to fight cancer", she said.

Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug and developed for the treatment of cancer. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. The T-cells recognize that something is wrong, but it isn't being fixed.


Honjo, who is now 76, told a news conference in Tokyo he was honored to get the Nobel, but that his work was not yet done.

A member of his golf club approached him and thanked him for his efforts, he said. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday and the economics laureate will be announced next Monday.

"When Dana showed me the results, I was really surprised", Allison said. "His research has led to life-saving treatments for people who otherwise would have little hope". It is known commercially as Yervoy. "We need more basic science research to do that".

"It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade".

"They are living proof of the power of basic science, of following our urge to learn and to understand how things work".

A study released in June tested a form of immunotherapy against chemo for non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common lung cancer worldwide.

The team continued to study PD-1 disruption and eventually showed that PD-1 inhibitors worked not only in mice, but also in humans, with the first clinical trials testing the technique to combat cancer launching in 2006.

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