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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
Yesterday
Administering intranasal desmopressin to patients with renal dysfunction not requiring haemodialysis reduces bleeding complications during renal biopsies, especially minor complications such as perinephric haematomas, a study has found. However, it may increase the risk of incident hyponatraemia.
Pearl Toh, 10 Oct 2019
Adding a LAMA* to the double combination therapy of ICS** plus LABA*** in a single inhaler improves lung function and reduces exacerbations in patients whose asthma is inadequately controlled with the combination treatment, according to the TRIMARAN and TRIGGER# studies presented at ERS 2019.
3 days ago
Environmental quality and exposure to pollution may play a small part in the development of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, a new study has found.
Tristan Manalac, 5 days ago
Sleep deprivation impairs adolescents’ long-term retention of classroom material, according to a recent Singapore study.