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How “checkpoint therapy” changes cancer treatment

Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on cancer therapy “by the inhibition of negative immune regulation.” Their discoveries mark a milestone in our understanding of cancer because they reveal that the immune system can be recruited to fight malignant tumours.

Cancer is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. It kills millions every year and casts a huge shadow over the lives of their families and friends. But relief is on the horizon. By stimulating our immune system to attack tumour cells, Allison and Honjo have established an entirely new therapy principle.

Allison studied a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system and realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby freeing immune cells to attack tumours. He has developed this concept into a new approach for treating victims. Meanwhile, Honjo discovered a protein in immune cells and demonstrated that it also operates as a brake. Therapies based on his discovery have proved impressively effective. The new “checkpoint therapy” based on work of Allison and Honjo promises to change fundamentally the way cancer is managed.

Here, James P. Allison from Alice, Texas, cancer scientist and part-time harmonica player with Willie Nelson’s touring group, the Family, delivers his Nobel Lecture at the Aula Medica, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.


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