Published: Wed, October 03, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

UT Austin graduate wins Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

UT Austin graduate wins Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

The Nobel Assembly announced Allison and Honjo as the medicine laureates at 11:30 a.m. Sweden time (4:30 a.m. Houston time) before worldwide members of the press and an online live feed.

In 2014, Allison and Honjo received the first "Tang Prize for Biopharmaceutical Science" for their research in cancer immunotherapy, a type of treatment that allows for the immune system to fight cancer effectively.

Allison's work explored how a protein can function as a brake on the immune system, and how the immune cells can combat tumors if the brake is released. The Swedish Academy said that the academics' discovery takes the advantage of the immune system's ability to attack the cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells.

Research by Allison's team has meanwhile led to the development of a monoclonal antibody drug, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for the treatment of melanoma.

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Commenting on Monday's award, Dan Davis, an immunologist at Britain's University of Manchester, said "this game-changing cancer therapy" has "sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses".

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Dr. Honjo in a phone call, telling him: "I believe the achievements of your research have given cancer patients hope and light". "It was one of those moments when we figured out that CTLA-4 was the brakes on the immune system". Two drugs based on PD-1 inhibition, nivolumab and pembrolizumab, have been approved for treating melanoma and lung cancer. 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. Tasuku Honjo was born in Kyoto, in Japan.

We now know that the current crop of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs will help a minority of patients across many cancers, but still fail the majority.

While in theory it should work for most forms of cancer, it's most effective on those with the highest numbers of mutations such as melanomas, lung cancer and smoking, he added.

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A revolutionary cancer treatment pioneered by the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine has been hailed as the future of fighting the disease - and it has fewer devastating side effects than chemotherapy.

Sharing the prestigious award are James P. Allison, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan.

In 2012, a pivotal study demonstrated clear results for patients with different types of cancer.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded 108 times to 214 Nobel laureates between 1901 and 2017.

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