Monday, 10 December, 2018


UC Berkeley research led to Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1 AP Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1
Patty Aguilar | 01 October, 2018, 17:41

James P Allison of the USA and Tasuku Honjo of Japan won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research that has revolutionised the treatment of cancer, the jury said on Monday.

Honjo and Allison will split the Nobel prize amount of 9 million in Swedish krona, or $1.01 million.

Their work, on stimulating the body's immune system to attack tumours, have produced "strikingly effective" therapies, the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute said.

"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". "And I thought, 'If we could do that in people, this is going to be wonderful'". Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica. Allison's success with CTLA-4 in cancer persuaded Honjo to consider his molecule in cancer as well-and he found PD-1 therapy was even safer and more effective against a number of cancers, including lung cancer, which kills about 150,000 Americans a year.

Their work centers on harnessing the immune system to arrest the development of cancer. It was his perseverance, as well as his science, that brought cancer immune therapy to the public, Lanier says.

"With another postdoc I did some side experiments on how tumors are recognized by the immune system", Allison told the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2016.

Professor Allison works at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

Today, immunotherapies based on Allison and Honjo's research work especially well for fighting advanced and aggressive tumors.

Meanwhile, Allison left UC Berkeley in 2004 for Memorial Sloan Kettering research center in NY to be closer to the drug companies shepherding his therapy through clinical trials, and to explore in more detail how checkpoint blockade works.

"When Dana showed me the results, I was really surprised", Allison said.

In 1995, Allison was one of two scientists to identify the ligand CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells.

Their parallel work concerned proteins that act as brakes on the body's immune system. The peace prize will be announced on Friday, and the economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8. The Nobel prize can only be awarded to individuals, but it is important to remember that others would have been involved in the discoveries.

The literature prize will not be handed out this year after the awarding body was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal.

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