Two researchers whose discoveries led to the development of the first cancer immunotherapy treatments, immune checkpoint inhibitors, were awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine in October.

James P. Allison at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and Tasuku Honjo at Kyoto University in Japan discovered in the 1990s how cancer cells were using the body’s own immune checkpoints to turn off the immune system and evade apoptosis. Specifically, Allison found CTLA-4 and Honjo found PD-1. Those proteins have been investigated in subsequent studies that eventually resulted in the advent of drugs such as ipilimumab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab. Various checkpoint inhibitor drugs are approved to treat lung, kidney, bladder, and head and neck cancers; melanoma; and Hodgkin lymphoma and other blood cancers.

As oncology nurses increasingly care for patients receiving immunotherapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, they need to understand how the treatments differ from traditional therapies, especially in the management of side effects. For more information on oncology nursing considerations regarding immunotherapy, visit ONS’s immunotherapy resource page.