Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for New Weapon Against Cancer

James Allison and Tasuku Honjo have carried out parallel projects to help the body's immune system attack tumours

While there remains a lot to be done in finding proven and effective treatments for cancer, two pioneers of science have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for similar, but revolutionary, treatment methods.

The discovery of a protein called PD-1 by Honjo and his team has led to the development of Opdivo, a drug used against lung cancer and melanoma which enhances patients' immunity in fighting cancer.

The seminal discoveries represent a "paradigmatic shift in the fight against cancer", the Nobel committee said, since they do so not by targeting the tumor cells but by tweaking the immune system. "The significance of immunotherapy as a form of cancer treatment will be felt for generations to come", said MD Anderson President Peter WT Pisters.

Despite little initial interest from the pharmaceutical industry, that antibody became ipilimumab, which in 2011 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat metastatic melanoma. He is a professor at Kyoto University.

Allison also said he was "honored and humbled" by the award.

Allison, an immunologist, studied a protein receptor called CTLA-4 on T-cells, which acted as a brake to keep the immune system under control. From 1974-1977 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, California.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. According to MD Anderson, Allison's crucial insight was to block a protein on T cells that acts as a brake on their activation, freeing the T cells to attack cancer. "I'd like to continue researching cancer for a while so that this immunotherapy will help save more cancer patients than ever before".

The assembly said the duo were awarded "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".

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Perlmann said he had not yet managed to contact Allison.

His research also inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers for which Allison plays harmonica.

While it operates on a different mechanism to CTLA-4, Honjo found that blocking it produced equally spectacular results by unleashing the immune system to fight cancer cells.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has congratulated Nobel Prize victor Tasuku Honjo of Japan. He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.

James Allison, Who for 20 years was a UC Berkeley immunologist conducting fundamental research on cancer, shared the prestigious prize on Monday with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan.

Allison heard the news of his Nobel prize win while at an immunology conference in New York City, reports Ledford and Else.

The winners of 2018 physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday. The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year.

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