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Congratulations to Nobel Prize immunotherapy pioneers

The Leukaemia Foundation congratulates the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine winners, James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, for their research and discovery into how the body’s natural defences can fight cancer such as lymphoma.

“As Australia’s leading blood cancer organisation, we acknowledge the efforts of both these winners and how their decades of work on the immune system has helped to pave the way for a new class of cancer drugs that are significantly changing outcomes for patients,” a Leukaemia Foundation spokesperson said.

“This new principle for cancer therapy – popularly known as immunotherapy – harnesses the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells specifically, as compared to conventional cancer treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy that tend to attack both cancer cells and healthy cells alike.”

Professor Allison identified the CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in the body’s natural immunity to disease. Professor Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells, PD-1, and how it acted as a brake on T-cells.

As a result of their work, further development of strategies to release the brakes on the immune system with the aim of eliminating tumour cells even more efficiently have begun after new clinical studies indicates that combination therapy, targeting both CTLA-4 and PD-1, can be more effective.

“We are excited about the future of immunotherapy and will continue to advocate for treatments like these in line with our new national research program priorities,” the Leukaemia Foundation spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that the Leukaemia Foundation’s new national research program would prioritise the use of advanced treatments like immunotherapy and precision medicine and provide people living with blood cancer with a better chance of survival and a better quality of life after treatment.

For further information on the 2018 Nobel Prize award, please visit To hear more from other leaders in blood cancer research, treatment and wellbeing, please visit the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Research Hub here.

Last updated on July 15th, 2022

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.