Nobel Prize Awarded to 2 Cancer Immunotherapy Researchers

Dr. Barry H. Kaplan’s response to the article in The New York Times regarding the article titled: 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to 2 Cancer Immunotherapy Researchers   I was thrilled to see the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine given to two scientists who have had an outstanding impact on the whole field of cancer treatment. Let’s take a moment to talk about the immune system, the behavior of cells and how the scientists manipulated that behavior to the patient’s benefit. When a part of the immune system called a T-cell sees a cancer cell, the T-cell attacks the cancer cell but then further expansion of the attacking T-cell is immediately shut off. That shut off is called CTLA-4 discovered by Dr. James Allison. With Immunotherapy we can and do block CTLA-4 so we get an army of T-cells attacking cancer cells. The results, particularly in melanoma for which we had no treatment, have been excellent. The work of Dr. Tasuku Honjo showed that the problem occurs when the T-cells get to the cancer cells. The cancer cells often have a cover preventing the T-cells from killing the cancer cells. The cover is called PDL-1 and we now have several medications that can remove the cover. These discoveries and the agents developed from this work have revolutionized cancer treatment. Not all patients benefit but I now see patients alive that I would have never seen before. As one example, a patient with Stage IV lung cancer is now doing well 3 years after starting immunotherapy with no signs of his disease. A 93-year-old man with melanoma is in remission after a few of these treatments. I congratulate Drs. Allison and Honjo for their very well deserved award and my gratitude for what they allow me to do for my patients.Leave a reply