The revolution of immunotherapy against cancer, Nobel prize in Medicine

The Nobel prize in Medicine recognized this Monday studies to develop immunotherapy against cancer the american James P. Allison and the japanese Tasuku Honjo, who have established new principles in the fight against this disease.

His work has revolutionized the treatment of cancer of the lung or melanoma , and various types in phase metastatic, changing in a fundamental way, the way to fight this evil, pointed out in its judgment the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Allison and Honjo demonstrated, from different strategies, how the immune system can be used to fight against cancer, an idea that has already started to discuss at the end of the NINETEENTH century and early TWENTIETH century and has led to investigations for years, though without resulting in new therapeutic strategies.

The discoveries of the new nobel “constitute a milestone in the fight against cancer,” he said after the announcement the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Medicine, immunologist Klas Kärre.

It is an approach that “completely new because, unlike previous strategies, is not centered on the cancer cells, but it does in the immune system“, he added.

In the 1990s, Alisson began to study in his laboratory of the University of California (USA) the protein CTLA-4, which works as a brake of the so-called T-cells, key in the immune system. Other researchers had discovered this property of CTLA-4 and applied the mechanism in autoimmune diseases, but Alisson had a different idea.

After the discovery of an antibody that could bind to that protein and inhibit its function, he wanted to find out if he could release the brake of the T cell and cause the immune system attacked the cancer cells.

Using this technique was able to cure mice with cancer and, after its efforts to develop a strategy for human, achieved in 2010 surprising effects in patients with advanced melanoma.

Honjo discovered in parallel at the University of Kyoto (Japan) PD-1, another protein expressed on the surface of T cells: years of experiments showed that it worked as a brake but with a different mechanism.

A study showed in 2012 its effectiveness in the treatment of patients with different types of cancer, and also in cases in which the disease was in the metastatic stage.

And new clinical trials indicate that the combination of both proteins in therapies can be even more effective, as is the case with the patients of melanoma.

Kärre said that, until now, there were three pillars in the treatment of cancer: remove it with surgery, get rid of it with radiation (radiotherapy) or attack it with medications that damage the cancer cells.

However, he explained the discoveries of the new laureates “have added a new pillar in the anti-cancer therapies, present a principle entirely new, “and in addition works in different types of tumors.

Born in Alice (Texas, USA) in 1948, Allison has carried out studies of biology at several american universities and since 2012 he has been teaching in the Texas.

Six years older, Honjo (born in Kyoto), he studied medicine and chemistry in the university centres for japanese and americans, since 1984 practicing in his native city and received five years ago the Order of Culture, the highest award of Japan in that field.

Allison and Honjo won in 2014 for his discoveries in immunotherapy the first Prize Tang Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, one of the four fields recognized by the awards, created by an entrepreneur taiwanese as a sort of “snap” to the Nobel prize and gifted with 1,33 million dollars.

In addition, Allison was honored this year with the Award BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge in the Biomedical category for creating the first immunotherapy to be of “high effectiveness” against the cancer.

For the Nobel prize in Medicine is dealt 9 billion Swedish crowns (870.000€), a prize whose winners happen to the u.s. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, distinguished in 2017 for discovering the molecular mechanisms that control the “internal biological clock”.

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