Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo, who jointly won the Nobel Medicine Prize with James P Allison of the USA, is credited for his discovery of a protein that contributed to the development of an immunotherapeutic drug, opening a pathway for an altogether new way of treating cancer.
Dr. James P. Allison, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, poses for a photo in NY in 2015. "The reason I'm really thrilled about this is that I'm a basic scientist". During his university days, a fellow student died of stomach cancer, which led him to think that he would someday like to get involved in tackling the disease. That role partly falls to a white blood cell known as a "T cell".
Allison, an American immunologist, conducted a study on a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system.
But this platform of studies and drugs will provide us with the foundation to understand how the immune system is structured and could be reactivated in every person with cancer, to try to solve this puzzle in real-time for each individual.
Of the two treatment strategies, checkpoint therapy against PD-1 has proven more effective and positive results are being observed in several types of cancer, including lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma. "We are delighted that it was positively evaluated", said Shinsuke Amano, head of the Japan Federation of Cancer Patient Groups.
The last Japanese to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was Yoshinori Ohsumi, an honorary professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in 2016. He performed his prize-winning studies at the University of California Berkeley and at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY.
In short, because it's the closest anyone has come to finding a cure for cancer.
Tight control of our body's natural defences is just as fundamental as the immune response itself - it means any foreign or damaged cells (including tumour cells) can be destroyed while ensuring healthy cells aren't attacked.
Perlmann said he had not yet managed to contact Allison. In short, they induce the guards to look the other way. As a researcher, "I like being on the edge and being wrong a lot". It is the second leading cause of death worldwide and it is estimated that this year, 9.6 million people will die from cancer. I saw the ravages of those kinds of treatments.
What makes cancer so hard to target and treat is its ability to outsmart the immune system in different ways. Allison explained during the 30-minute news conference.
One of the first patients I was privileged to care for in clinic had completed four rounds of treatment with an experimental drug - three months of infusions of a checkpoint inhibitor (one of which is now on the PBS).
Before joining MD Anderson, Allison received both his bachelor's and doctorate degrees from UT Austin. Anderson Cancer Center. Honju works at Japan's Kyoto University.
Allison has collaboratively worked with scientists around the globe to expand the field of immunotherapy.
"Time is right", Kärre said.
Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in NY, said "the science they pioneered" had saved "an untold number of lives". He developed an antibody to block the checkpoint protein CTLA-4 and demonstrated the success of the approach in experimental models. Two drugs based on PD-1 inhibition, nivolumab and pembrolizumab, have been approved for treating melanoma and lung cancer.
Other cancer treatments have previously been awarded Nobel prizes, including methods for hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplantation for leukaemia in 1990.
Honjo becomes the 26th Japanese to win a Nobel Prize and the fifth to win the prize in physiology or medicine, following Susumu Tonegawa, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who won in 1987; Shinya Yamanaka, a Kyoto University professor who won in 2012; Satoshi Omura, a distinguished professor emeritus at Kitasato University, who won in 2015; and Ohsumi.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement. Later in the morning, the Nobel committee called Allison with the news.