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Present at Creation of Nobel-Winning 'Checkpoint Inhibitor' Therapies, Immunologist Looks to the Future

Nobel Prize Win Recognizes Cancer Immunotherapy's Coming of Age

By Nicholas Weiler | UCSF.edu | October 2, 2018

Present at Creation of Nobel-Winning 'Checkpoint Inhibitor' Therapies, Immunologist Looks to the Future

Matthew “Max” Krummel (center), PhD, led several of the key studies now being awarded with the Nobel prize as a graduate student in the laboratory of James P. Allison, PhD, at UC Berkeley. Photo by Maurice Ramirez

Twenty-two years ago, the possibility of using immunotherapy to treat cancer was just being demonstrated in mice. Now the therapies are showing dramatic success in thousands of human patients and have just been acknowledged with a Nobel Prize.

Researchers at UC San Francisco and elsewhere are working to move immunotherapy beyond cancer to find ways that numerous diseases could potentially be treated by harnessing the immune system.

On Oct. 1, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to James P. Allison, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University, for the groundbreaking research that spurred the development of the class of cancer immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors.

“Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer. The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer,” the Nobel Committee said in a statement.

Matthew “Max” Krummel, PhD, led several of the key studies now being awarded with the Nobel prize as a graduate student in Allison’s UC Berkeley lab. At UCSF since 2001, Krummel says Allison’s mentorship has decisively shaped his career as an immunologist, especially Allison’s encouragement of out-of-the-box, curiosity-driven thinking about immunology’s therapeutic promise.

This emphasis on tackling problems from new perspectives has spurred Krummel to lead a new initiative at UCSF that is looking to shed light on the role of the immune system in a wide range of human diseases.

Advancing Cancer Immunotherapy

Cancer immunotherapy, a rapidly advancing strategy to treat tumors, relies on leveraging our immune system’s ability to identify and attack foreign bacterial or viral invaders within the body and to dispose of the body’s own defective cells.

Though the idea of harnessing the immune system to fight cancer is more than a century old, the field had largely languished for decades, until advances in biology made it possible to precisely manipulate the behavior of immune cells.

Read more at UCSF.edu