Nivolumab (Opdivo)

Science-Based Antibody Drug, Which Opened a New Category of Cancer Treatments
  • Yasushi HaraEmail author
  • Sadao Nagaoka


Nivolumab is a humanized anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody drug against cancer, based on immune checkpoint blockade as an entirely new mechanism of action. The new gene (PD-1), its function, and the possibility that its suppression can be used to block cancer growth were identified in the laboratory of Prof. Tasuku Honjo at Kyoto University, starting from a serendipitous basic science discovery. Despite concrete demonstrations by Honjo’s team of the potential of PD-1 signal inhibition to treat cancer, subsequent investment in drug development did not readily occur. Strong skepticism against cancer immunotherapy prevailed, so that Ono Pharmaceutical, a Japanese pharmaceutical company that joined in the development process of nivolumab from an early stage, could not find a collaborating firm, either domestic or international, that had antibody technology. However, an American startup company appreciated the method-of-use patent and the discovery underlying the patent and participated in the project. This case demonstrates how pure basic research aimed at deepening understanding of fundamental questions led unexpectedly to a major discovery of great practical value. The subsequent use-oriented basic research by the university as well as the use of diverse capability and multiple views helped exploit a path-breaking scientific discovery for innovation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CEAFJP/EHESSParisFrance
  2. 2.Faculty of EconomicsHitotsubashi UniversityTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Tokyo Keizai UniversityTokyoJapan

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