The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been given to the American and Japanese immunologists, Dr. James P. Allison and Dr. Tasuku Honjo, for their work on cancer therapy. They were both the 2014 Tang Prize laureates in the category of Biopharmaceutical Science.
After spending over 30 years in researching and developing medication for cancer immunotherapy at top research centers around the world, Dr. Allison then chose to serve as chairman of the Department of Immunology and Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. He said he always wanted to be the first one to figure something out. That drive has pushed him to work tirelessly in the field of science. Meanwhile, he is one of the two scientists to identify CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells in 1995 and was the first to recognize it as a potential target for cancer therapy. His team then developed an antibody that blocks CTLA-4 activity and showed in 1996 that this antibody is able to help reject several different types of tumors in mouse models. This subsequently led to development of a monoclonal antibody drug, which has undergone clinical trials against stage 4 melanoma and been approved for treatment of melanoma by the U.S. FDA in 2011.
Dr. Honjo is a professor of the Department of Immunology and Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University. He has been considered the most potential candidate in Japan to be a Nobel nominee. As a child, he dreamed of being an astronomer. Later, he aspired to be a lawyer and a diplomat. Interestingly, he ended up doing biopharmaceutical research as his career. He and his team discovered PD-1 in 1992. His group subsequently established that PD-1 is an inhibitor regulator of the T-cell response. Additional studies from his and other laboratories established that this protein plays a critical role in the regulation of tumor immunity and stimulated many groups to generate its blocker for the treatment of cancer. Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the U.S. FDA as an investigational new drug and developed for the treatment of cancer. A pioneer of genetic research in Japan, Dr. Honjo also opens a new chapter in medical history. He is an influential scientist of immunology in the 21st century.
The 2014 Tang Prize in the category of Biopharmaceutical Science recognized the two extraordinary scientists, Dr. Allison and Dr. Honjo, for their discoveries of CTLA-4 and PD-1 as immune inhibitory molecules that led to their applications in cancer immunotherapy. Studies show that using both treatments can lead to better results. Initial clinical trials in melanoma patients show that the tumors among 2/3 of the patients become smaller, and patients’ survival rates at two years raise to 90%. The treatments are revolutionary breakthroughs for cancer immunotherapy, and pave the way for treatments to many diseases that are difficult to deal with.
The Tang Prize Foundation extends its sincere congratulations to them for making tremendous contributions to human health.