Searching For A Cure For Cancer, With Nobel Prize Winner James Allison

22 hours ago
Originally published on October 11, 2018 4:05 pm

With Meghna Chakrabarti

James Allison won the Nobel Prize for his landmark work on the immune system and cancer treatment. We’ll talk with him and other top researchers on where we are in the search for a cure.


James Allison, chair of the Department of Immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in cancer immunotherapy.

Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology. Chief of the division of Surgical Oncology at Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Cancer Center. Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. (@ASCOPres)

From The Reading List

New York Times: “2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to 2 Cancer Immunotherapy Researchers” — “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded on Monday to James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options.

“Their success, which came after many researchers had given up on the idea, ‘brought immunotherapy out from decades of skepticism,’ said Dr. Jedd Wolchok, a cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. It has, he said, ‘led to human applications that have affected an untold number of people’s health.’

“Before Dr. Allison’s and Dr. Honjo’s discoveries, cancer treatment consisted of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal treatments. A statement from the Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing ‘an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.’ ”

NPR: “What Can Cancer Specialists Learn From Patients Who Beat All The Odds?” — “Carol Martin is 67 and has advanced, inoperable pancreatic cancer.

‘I have a particularly virulent form of that disease,’ she said. ‘I have squamous carcinoma, which means, according to my doctors, ordinarily the diagnosis to death is usually two months.

“‘This June is two years out from my diagnosis.’

“Not only is Martin back at work as a Harvard research administrator, she also finished this year’s Boston Marathon amid the high winds and pouring rain.

“‘We had headwinds, we had crosswinds, they had water running on the street,’ she recalled. ‘They had people dropping out like flies.’

“But she made it. She speed-walked the course and reached the finish line in just over seven and a half hours.

“Clearly, Martin is no ordinary pancreatic cancer patient in her response to treatment. But what is the key to her medical superpowers?

“That’s the type of mystery that a project called the Network of Enigmatic Exceptional Responders will try to solve.”

Nature: “Bringing down the cost of cancer treatment” — “The year 2011 was a watershed for cancer medicines in the United States. In the space of five months, federal regulators approved the first checkpoint-inhibitor immunotherapy, the first treatment for an aggressive form of thyroid cancer, the first personalized drug for the skin cancer melanoma, the first in an innovative class of targeted agents for lung cancer, and a ‘weaponized’ antibody therapy that delivers a drug to tumour cells in people with lymphoma.

“The potency, complexity and innovative nature of these treatments were noteworthy. But so was the price. Each cost more than US$100,000 per person when taken for a year — a rarity at the time for oncology drugs.

“The prices seemed staggering to doctors, patients and health-care providers alike. But quickly, they became normal. By 2014, the average cost of a new orally administered cancer medicine exceeded $135,000 a year — up to six times the cost of similar drugs approved in the early 2000s, after adjusting for inflation1. 2017 brought the most eye-popping price tag in oncology yet: a one-time cost of $475,000 per patient for a personalized cell-based therapy for childhood leukaemia.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit