Telephone Interview with Tasuku Honjo
1 October 2018
Tasuko Honjo: Hello.
Adam Smith: Oh, hello, am I speaking to Professor Honjo?
Tasuko Honjo: This is he.
Adam Smith: Hello, my name is Adam Smith, calling from Nobelprize.org, the official website of the Nobel Prize. First of all, congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
Tasuko Honjo: Thank you very much. It’s a great honour.
Adam Smith: What was your first reaction on hearing the news?
Tasuko Honjo: Oh, well, certainly, I am very much pleased and very much honoured.
Adam Smith: It’s the first Nobel Prize awarded for cancer therapy for many years. What message do you think this sends?
Tasuko Honjo: As you say, for treatment, certainly, this is the first time, and I think that many people tried very hard to cure the cancer, but fortunately we…we, Jim Allison and myself, studied this checkpoint inhibitor therapy. I mean, we discovered the principle, and this is really working. So for me, it’s more than happy to see many patients – often I can see them telling me, “You saved my life”. This is my most enjoyable and, I would say, I’m very pleased to hear that what I have done is really meaningful.
Adam Smith: It shows that you never really know which way things will go in research, because you didn’t set out to discover a cure.
Tasuko Honjo: No, no. Well, you know, biology is such a complex system. It’s totally different from the engineering. We cannot design. Many people tried to find the therapy for cancer, but all failed. And myself, I never expected my research, working on the immune system, would lead to the cancer therapy. But, in a sense, I’m very fortunate that I also thought about it. You know, you have to try many things and if you’re lucky, you can hit, but you have to pursue. That’s my feeling.
Adam Smith: And what is your hope for the future of immune checkpoint inhibitors?
Tasuko Honjo: Well, there are still several problems, but two are most important. One is, still only 30% of patients are responding, so we wish to have some biomarkers to predict whether he or she is responsive or not. Secondly, definitely, we wish to improve the efficacy of this treatment, and I’m sure this is a target of many, many scientists in the companies. So I believe these two problems will be solved in the near future.
Adam Smith: That’s a very hopeful message, and indeed, I think the award of the prize is a very hopeful sign for a very large number of people around the world today.
Tasuko Honjo: I think so. It’s encouraging, and we need [the] power of many, many people to push this therapy in a really satisfactory level. This is just the beginning of the whole story.
Adam Smith: Well, thank you very much indeed. We…we greatly look forward to welcoming you to Stockholm in December.
Tasuko Honjo: Oh, yes, yes, I’m looking forward to that.
Adam Smith: It’s very exciting to talk to you, and once again, many, many congratulations.
Tasuko Honjo: Thank you very much. I really appreciate.