Tasuku Honjo

Nobel Prize for Robert Koch Laureate

Tasuku Honjo, the 2012 Robert Koch Award laureate, is being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The award to Honjo brings the number of Robert Koch Foundation laureates to receive a Nobel Prize to 12 since 1975.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018 is being awarded jointly to Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan, and James P. Allison from the University of Texas in Houston, USA. According to the prize committee at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the researchers were awarded this prestigious prize “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”
The Robert Koch Foundation congratulates Honjo on his achievement: „We are delighted that a Robert Koch Foundation laureate has once again received recognition for his research by being awarded a Nobel Prize“, said Professor Jörg Hacker, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Robert Koch Foundation.

Robert Koch Award 2012

The Robert Koch Foundation conferred the 2012 Robert Koch Award with prize money of 100,000 euros on Professor Tasuku Honjo from the Institute for Immunology and Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.

Tasuku Honjo was honoured for his pioneering work on molecular immunology and medicine. He explained fundamental mechanisms used by the immune system to combat pathogens, which improve antigen binding and elimination. This includes somatic hypermutation, a molecular mechanism via which specific antibodies to antigens are formed. Honjo found that the AID enzyme (activation-induced cytidine deaminase) he discovered changes the binding point of the antibody via somatic hypermutation, as well as the function of the antibodies by replacing parts of the antibody genes. This is known as class switch recombination. The mutation rate is roughly one million times higher than the natural mutation rate, which is why it is called hypermutation.

Besides the pioneering discovery of class switch recombination, Honjo also discovered the PD-1 molecule (programmed cell death 1), a negative co-receptor in the effector phase of immune response. A modulation of PD-1 can help treat viral infections, autoimmune reactions and tumours. Accordingly, Honjo’s scientific discoveries are vital to our understanding of immunity, immune diseases and cancer biology.