National / Science & Health

Nobel winner Tasuku Honjo sees bigger role for immunotherapy in battling cancer

Kyodo

Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo, who jointly won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his research on the immune system that contributed to cancer treatments, said Thursday that he believes most cancers will become treatable with immune therapy by 2050.

The 76-year-old professor and deputy director-general at the Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study spoke at a news conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, joined by American scientist James Allison, who shared the prize.

The discovery by Honjo and Allison — on methods to inhibit negative immune regulation — established a new principle for cancer treatment that stimulates the inherent ability of the human immune system to unleash attacks on tumor cells, according to the Nobel Assembly.

Honjo said it may become possible to contain the growth of most cancer cells through such treatment, even if cancer cannot be completely eliminated, as he discussed the effectiveness of combination therapy using drugs in the development of which he and Allison were involved.

The Kyoto native and his team discovered PD-1, a protein on immune cells that operates as a brake on the immune system. The discovery led to the development of Opdivo, a drug which enhances the immune system in fighting cancer.

The checkpoint inhibitor therapy, studied by Honjo and Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, has revolutionized cancer treatment and drastically changed the view of how cancer can be managed, according to the Nobel Assembly.

On Thursday morning, Honjo visited the Nobel Museum with other laureates and signed the bottom of a chair in the cafe — a tradition for new laureates.During the Nobel Week, which lasts until Tuesday, Honjo is scheduled to deliver his Nobel lecture, titled “Serendipities of acquired immunity,” and attend the award ceremony as well as a royal banquet at the palace.

In commemorating Honjo winning the Nobel Prize, a fund was established at Kyoto University to support researchers engaged in basic medical research.

The fund was initiated by Honjo’s donation of his prize money, and further donations will be solicited, according to the university.