The 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. The two scientists, who both work in the United States, have been awarded for their research which for the first time has brought to light the mechanisms by which cells of the immune system attack cancer cells. Their studies are considered a milestone in the fight against cancer and are the basis of immunotherapy.

“It is a Nobel prize-winner who rewards a dream, that of Research in Medicine, 100 years long: to use the weapons of the immune system against cancer”, said Professor Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of the IRCCS Institute Clinico Humanitas in Milan and lecturer at Humanitas University.

“James Allison and Tasuku Honjo have made a fundamental contribution to the identification of two brakes (so-called checkpoints) of the immune system that, if removed, reactivate the response of our defenses against many cancers. Their discovery, the result of fundamental preclinical research, has therefore resulted in a clinical benefit for many patients. Opening up a new frontier”.

“Research in the field of immunology and immunology of tumors is one of the absolute excellence of our country – added the professor – which has contributed significantly to the study of the immune system as well as the identification of different checkpoints. Those on which Allison and Honjo have worked concern in particular the T lymphocytes, but others have also been discovered, which act on different cells of the immune system, such as NK (Natural Killer) and macrophages.

“This Nobel Prize is therefore a further confirmation of the concrete hopes that derive to patients from immunotherapy, which in general, in its various forms, has already recorded important successes, proving effective in a surprisingly broad spectrum of tumors. There are few similar precedents in the history of Oncology, perhaps none,” clarified Mantovani.

“However, we still have a long way to go before us to make the most of the full potential that immunological therapies possess and have begun to reveal. First of all, we need to understand why not all patients respond to these therapies. And, again – said the professor – we must be able to predict which patients can actually benefit from these treatments: both to avoid possible side effects to those who would not benefit from them anyway, and in view of the sustainability of the treatments given their very high cost. In addition, we must explore the potential of new brakes.

In addition to the challenge, however, there is also a promise for the future: “to be able to better combine the molecular genetics of cancer and the immunology of tumors, so as to optimize the therapy and identify patients who can have a real benefit.