Scientists behind game-changing cancer immunotherapies win Nobel medicine prize
2 October, 2018, 10:36 pm
STOCKHOLM/LONDON (Reuters) – American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday for game-changing discoveries about how to harness and manipulate the immune system to fight cancer.
The scientists’ work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely difficult to treat.
“The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said as it awarded the prize of nine million Swedish crowns ($1 million).
The discoveries led to the creation of a multibillion-dollar market for new cancer medicines.
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMY.N) CTLA-4 therapy Yervoy was the first such drug to win approval, in 2011. However, it is medicines targeting PD-1 blockade that have proved a bigger commercial hit, led by Merck & Co’s (MRK.N) Keytruda in 2014.
Sales of such medicines, which are given as infusions, are expected to reach some $15 billion this year, according to Thomson Reuters consensus forecasts. Some analysts see eventual revenues of $50 billion.
Honjo, who is now 76, told a news conference in Tokyo he was honored to get the Nobel, but his work was not yet done.
“I would like to keep on doing my research …so that this immune treatment could save more cancer patients,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Honjo in a phone call, telling him: “I believe the achievements of your research have given cancer patients hope and light.”
Allison told a news conference he was in a “state of shock” hours after learning from his son that he had won a Nobel prize.
“As a basic scientist, to have my work really impact people is just one of the best things,” he said. “I think it’s everybody’s dream. And I’ve been lucky enough to do work that is benefiting people now.”
Commenting on the award, Kevin Harrington, a professor at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the work had revolutionized cancer treatment.
“We’ve gone from being in a situation where patients were effectively untreatable to having a range of immunotherapy options that, when they work, work very well indeed,” he said in a statement. “For some patients we see their tumors shrink or completely disappear and are effectively cured.”