Thursday, 13 December, 2018

MD Anderson professor talks about Nobel Prize win

The Local's Europe editor Catherine Edwards interviewing Jonas Bergh of the Nobel Assembly The Local's Europe editor Catherine Edwards interviewing Jonas Bergh of the Nobel Assembly
Theresa Hayes | 03 October, 2018, 19:16

The Nobel Prize laureates for Medicine or Physiology 2018 are James P Allison, US and Tasuku Honjo, Japan presented at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, October 1, 2018.

The men were awarded the prize "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".

Mike Lazaridis (DEng '00), Principal of Quantum Valley Investments® and University of Waterloo Chancellor Emeritus " Donna Strickland exemplifies research excellence at Waterloo.

Three researchers who "harnessed the power of evolution" to produce enzymes and antibodies that have led to new drugs and biofuels have been named winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Also, more than 30 drugs are under development as of June, said the American Cancer Society. Such cancers can be hard to treat, and therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation can do damage as well as good.

"A succession of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at MD Anderson, the University of California, Berkeley, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center played important roles in this research", he said.

Last year's prize went to researchers in the United States, Switzerland and Britain who developed a microscope technique that lets scientists see details of the molecules that drive life. "I got into them because I wanted to know how T cells work", Allison said.

The PD-1 protein that Honjo discovered has led to a breakthrough cancer immunotherapy, and earned him the USA journal Science's "Breakthrough of the Year" prize in 2013.

Honjo, who has been linked to Kyoto University since 1984, discovered PD-1, an immune system cell protein which also prevents tumors from being attacked. Their work has been crucial to developing new and extremely effective treatments.

It found that the drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) - which famously helped former USA president Jimmy Carter stave off advanced melanoma that had spread to his brain - helped lung cancer patients live four to eight months longer than chemo. Rather than targeting the activation of the immune system or the tumour cell itself, both focused on removing inhibitors of the immune response - a potential reason why this treatment has succeeded where so many others have failed.

Jim Allison, the chairman of the center's Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for the pair's pioneering research into cancer treatment.

Although the concept of using the immune system against cancer arose in the 19th century, initial treatments based on the approach were only modestly effective. That's because our immune systems typically fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, and mostly ignore the cells created within our bodies - which include cancer cells. These proteins block the T-cells from attacking the body itself. That was a blissful moment.

Dr Smith said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm. "They're going to be curative in a lot of patients".

Allison's drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. "We need more basic science research to do that".

The drug worked. A year after she began treatment, scans showed her cancer had disappeared.

"Pretty much every Nobel laureate understands that what he's getting the prize for is built on many precedents, a great number of ideas and research that he is exploiting because he is at the right place at the right time", he told AP.