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Cancer immunotherapy researchers awarded 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine

Christina Lau
04 Oct 2018
2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Dr James Allison (left) and Dr Tasuku Honjo (right)

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine is awarded to two researchers who discovered thatthe cytotoxic T-lymphocyte–associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) proteins limit the ability of T cells to attack cancer cells. Their discovery led to the development of immune checkpoint inhibitors that have revolutionized cancer treatment.

Dr James Allison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, US, discovered the CTLA-4 protein. He then developed an antibody against CTLA-4 and performed the first experiment on its antitumour activity in mice with cancer in 1994. Despite lukewarm interest from the pharmaceutical industry initially, Allison persisted in his efforts to develop the strategy into a therapy for humans. Promising results were soon reported by several groups, with a landmark clinical trial in 2010 showing significant efficacy in patients with advanced melanoma.

Dr Tasuku Honjo of the Kyoto University, Japan, discovered the PD-1 protein in 1992. With animal studies performed by his team and other groups showing promise, the strategy of PD-1 blockade in cancer treatment soon proceeded to clinical development. In 2012, a key study showed that treatment with an antibody against PD-1 provided long-term remission in patients with several types of metastatic cancer.

The anti–CTLA-4 therapy ipilimumab and anti–PD-1 therapies nivolumab and pembrolilzumab were subsequently approved for use in cancer patients. In clinical trials and clinical practice, these therapies have significantly improved the outcomes of patients with advanced cancers including melanoma, non-small-cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, squamous carcinoma of the head and neck, hepatocellular carcinoma, and urothelial carcinoma. Other immunotherapies, such as durvalumab, atezolizumab and avelumab, have also become available recently.

Current studies are evaluating the combination of anti–CTLA-4 and anti–PD-1 therapies and their combinations with other treatment modalities in various types of cancer.

Other cancer therapies have previously been awarded Nobel Prizes, including hormonal treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988, and bone marrow transplantation in 1990.
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Most Read Articles
6 days ago
Older women with longer endogenous oestrogen exposure and hormone therapy use are at much higher odds of having favourable cognitive status in late life, a recent study suggests.
4 days ago
In patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) and stable coronary artery disease (CAD), rivaroxaban monotherapy is noninferior to combination treatment with an antiplatelet therapy in terms of cutting the risk of cardiovascular events and mortality, according to data from the AFIRE trial.
Elvira Manzano, 5 days ago
Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D3 for up to 5 years has no effect on kidney function in adults with type 2 diabetes (T2D), the VITAL-DKD* ancillary study has shown.
Jairia Dela Cruz, 2 days ago
Many patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) in Thailand use anticoagulants, but the uptake of nonvitamin-K oral anticoagulants remains suboptimal despite showing an upward trend, according to data from the COOL-AF registry presented at the European Society of Cardioloy (ESC) Asia Congress 2019 with APSC and AFC.