Two scientists have been awarded 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their research into immune checkpoint blockade therapy: James Allison, PhD, and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD. The prize committee acknowledged that “the seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer.”
Working separately in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Drs. Allison and Honjo discovered proteins that act as ‘brakes’ on the immune system by preventing T cells from attacking tumors. By developing therapies to block these proteins, physicians have been able to “unleash the immune system to attack cancer cells,” Dr. Allison told a news conference.
Therapies targeting the two proteins – CTLA-4, discovered by Dr. Allison, and PD-1, discovered by Dr. Honjo – received regulatory approval within the last decade and changed treatment paradigms for certain cancers. Sales of these medicines are expected to reach $15 billion in 2018.