In the 1990s, two scientists made key discoveries that led to the development of promising new cancer-fighting immunotherapy drugs
The two researchers, from the U.S. and Japan, made key discoveries about the immune system’s response to cancer. Their work showed how to block cancer cells from crippling white blood cells. Still in its early stages, immunotherapy is a promising field in cancer research. James Allison and Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their innovative work in developing immunotherapy treatments to fight cancer. James P. Allison, 70, is the chair of the department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and Tasuku Honjo, 76, is a professor at the Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study in Japan. In the 1990s, the two scientists made separate breakthrough discoveries about the immune system that led to the development of immunotherapy drugs. They will share the $1 million prize.
How does immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy effectively removes the ‘brakes’ on the body’s immune system, allowing for a certain type of white blood cell, called T-cells, to hunt down and kill cancer cells. Without immunotherapy treatment, cancer cells can deactivate T-cells by taking advantage of a switch on the cells, called an immune checkpoint. This shuts down the body’s immune response and allows the cancer to spread unchecked.