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TechnologyMessage from the inventor

August 25, 2017

Masaru Taniguchi M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Adviser, RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences

Our research group discovered the new type of lymphocyte, the Natural Killer T (NKT) cell in the late 90’s, at Chiba University School of Medicine. The discovery was accredited by the American Association of Immunologists as one of the “Pillars of Immunology.” Now, roughly 30 years after their discovery, we are finally ready to commence to work on receiving approval by the government to use NKT cell-targeted cancer therapy as a cellular drug.
NKT cell-targeted therapy is developed based on the new concept different from other cancer immunotherapies currently in use. In specific terms, while many conventional cancer therapies target cancer cells, NKT cell-targeted therapy targets the patient’s immune system itself, activating the various immune cells that attack cancer, establishing long-term immune memory, and promoting continued attacks on cancer cells. Because of this, it will be possible to use this treatment even against constantly emerging mutated cancer cells that prove impossible to treat with conventional therapies. This NKT cell-targeted therapy can also prevent from the progression, recurrence, and metastasis of tumor.
NKT cells exist in all humans, making this treatment viable for anyone. Furthermore, because this treatment targets the patient’s immune system, it can be expected to be equally effective towards all types of cancer. In fact, in a clinical study of NKT cell-targeted cancer therapy for advanced lung cancer, which was authorized for use as advanced medical treatment B at Chiba University Hospital, we were able to confirm high levels of efficacy. Of the patients with a median life expectancy of 4.6 months, 60% saw their life expectancy successfully increase to a median of 31.9 months after the initial treatment alone. Additionally, the overall survival rate after one year of lung cancer treatment improved to 78%. Furthermore, we confirmed the efficacy of the treatment for other types of cancer as well, including esophageal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer, melanoma, maxillary cancer, and oral cancer.
NKT cells are common to all humans, making this therapy viable for anyone irrelevant of HLA types. Furthermore, because this therapy targets the patient’s immune system, it can be expected to be effective towards all types of cancer. In fact, in a clinical study of NKT cell-targeted therapy for advanced lung cancer, which was approved as advanced medical treatment B, we were able to confirm high levels of efficacy. The median survival time (MST) of all patients was 18.6 months, this was more than four times longer than the MST (4.6 months) of patients with best supportive care. Especially, 60% of all patients saw their MST successfully increase to 31.9 months after only the initial treatment without any further treatment. Additionally, the one-year overall survival rate was 78%. Furthermore, we confirmed the efficacy of the treatment for other types of cancer as well, including esophageal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer, melanoma, maxillary cancer, and oral cancer.
This fiscal year, we plan to commence a new clinical trial for NKT cell-targeted cancer therapy using a novel ligand. The clinical trial has been conducted as the Translational Research Strategic Promotion Program of the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED), based at Keio University as a collaborative development project together with RIKEN and AMBICION Co. Ltd. It is our mission to provide this therapy to cancer patients in the world as an approved drug in the near future, and we will do our utmost to ensure that this dream becomes a reality.

Dr. Masaru Taniguchi

谷口 克先生

Special adviser, RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences
Group Director, Laboratory for Immune Regulation, RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences

1974 Graduated from Graduate School of Medicine, Chiba University
1980 Professor, School of Medicine, Chiba University
1996-2000 Dean, School of Medicine, Chiba University
1997-1998 President, Japanese Society for Immunology
2001 First Director, RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology
2005-2008 Council Member, Science Council of Japan
2013 Current Position
Main Awards Received
1977 Erwin von Bälz Prize
1995 Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Award for Medical Sciences
2003 Uehara Prize
2004 Medal with Purple Ribbon
2016 Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd Class

Discovered the unique Vα14 antigen receptor in NKT cells in 1986 and discovered the clone proliferative NKT cells under physiological conditions in 1990, for which he was selected as one of the “Pillars of Immunology” for his contribution to the advance of immunology by the American Association of Immunologists. Discovered in 1997 that NKT cells ligand are glycolipids. Developed a mouse deficient in NKT cells in 1997. Articles in over 400 publications, including Nature and Science.