Sahlgrenska Academy reaction to this year’s Nobel Prizes in medicine and chemistry

8 October, 2018

Fantastic. Well-deserved. A win for the basic research that led to magical clinical effects. These are some of the comments from researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, at the Gothenburg University, after the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced.

The award went to James P. Allison, University of Texas, and Tasuku Honjo, Kyoto University, for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. The prize winners have established a completely new principle of cancer treatment based on strengthening the immune system’s inherent ability to attack tumor cells.

Fantastic and well deserved, according to Max Levin, professor of oncology, university lecturer and specialist physician. Max is an oncologist and treats patients with metastatic malignant melanoma, an aggressive cancer disease, which historically has had a very poor prognosis. Most patients have died within one to two years after diagnosis. “The situation has changed radically in recent years with the introduction of immunotherapy. I now see magic clinical effects in patients treated with immunotherapy on almost a daily basis. We see how some patients become tumor-free and perhaps even cured. This is a fantastic development and this year’s Nobel Prize winners have been two of several important pioneers,” says Max Levin.

Enzyme and antibodies are in focus for this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The three scientists sharing the award are receiving it since they have “mastered the power of evolution”.

“Unexpected, but not undeserved,” says Anders Blomberg, professor at the University of Gothenburg.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 consists of two halves where the American, Frances H. Arnold, is the recipient for one half, while the other half is shared between American, George P. Smith, and the Brit, Sir Gregory P. Winter. The latter half has strong links to the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (in relation to immunotherapy).

In 1985, George Smith developed a new method called phage display, where bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) can be used to extract new proteins. Gregory Winter used the phage display for targeted evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new drugs.

This research has revolutionized the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients. During the last 10-15 years, biological drugs that are targeted, effective and have few side effects have been produced. The first one was approved in 2002 and is used to treat arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. Phage display has since given rise to antibodies that can neutralise poisons, counter autoimmune diseases and cure metastasised cancer. The prize has strong connections with this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Text: Margareta Gustafsson Kubista and Ulrika Lundin, Sahlgrenska akademin. This article is an excerpt of two articles from the Sahlgrenska Academy – worth reading in full: ‘Magical clinical effects of Nobel Prize winners’ discovery’ (in Swedish) and ‘Mastering the power of evolution awarded Nobel Prize (in Swedish).