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BSI response to Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology 2018

Superresolution image of killer T cells (green and red)
surrounding a cancer cell (blue, centre)

1 October 2018

The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology 2018 has been awarded to James P. Allison (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center) and Tasuku Honjo (Kyoto University) "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". In response to this news, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement:

Professor Peter Openshaw, British Society for Immunology President, said:

“The discovery that many cancers result from our immune system being held back from attacking and destroying cancer cells has revolutionised the field of cancer treatment. It is one of the most extraordinary breakthroughs in modern medicine, opening up new possibilities for treatment even for those with terminal disease, and hope for thousands of patients. 

“James Allison and Tasuku Honjo worked out how the different components of the immune system are regulated and kept in check, and then how to inhibit this inhibition.  Effectively, they discovered how to ‘take off the brakes’, allowing the immune response to target and kill cancer cells – using a process called immune checkpoint therapy. However, they did not do this alone. It’s wonderful that they have been recognised, but all these discoveries are based on methodical and meticulous work by many international teams over many decades. Science is a global effort and depends of free movement of ideas and personnel.

“This new understanding of how we can use our own bodies to mount an ‘anti-cancer’ response has transformed the field. Although there are still hurdles to overcome in developing this knowledge into treatments for different cancer types, it’s exciting to see the first checkpoint therapies come into the clinic for routine use.  However, this is not the end of the story and many questions remain: Why do the existing treatments work so spectacularly in some patients with cancer, but not in others? How can we understand and treat the adverse effects of immune checkpoint therapy, in which the activated deregulated system attacks the joints, skin and other tissues?

“This is a well-deserved Nobel Prize. I send my warm congratulations to the winners, and hope that all those who have contributed to creating this breakthrough will also celebrate the parts that they have played in this transformation of the way cancer can be treated.“

You can read more about the winners’ work on the Nobel Prize website.

You can also find out more about the development of the field of cancer immunotherapy in this article from our 60th anniversary report.