US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded jointly to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovery of...

The Nobel committee on Monday announced that the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to a US-Japanese pair for their landmark work in cancer research.

James P Allison (left) and Tasaku Honjo (right) jointly won the Nobel Medicine Prize for their discovery of cancer therapy by "inhibition of negative immune regulation".

"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", he said in a statement on his university's website. The impact of the work done by these two immunologists is evident. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed". "And I thought, 'If we could do that in people, this is going to be incredible'". "We submitted to Nature, and it was published; we got a lot of notoriety for that".

Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, were in 2014 awarded the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research. He revealed that it can also be operating as a brake, but with a different mechanism.

By releasing the brake via an antibody that binds to and thus disables CTLA-4, he discovered in the 1990s, it was possible to unleash immune cells to swarm and kill tumors.

The methods are responsible for the development of cancer immunotherapy, which is included with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as approaches to fighting cancer.

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Allison studied a protein on T cells called CTLA-4 that acts as a brake on the immune system. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.

"I was doing basic science to do basic science, but you know, I had the good opportunity to see it develop into something that actually does people good", Allison has said. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge". And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma.

He succeeded, in part, by challenging orthodoxy.

Berg said that former President Jimmy Carter's cancer, which had spread to his brain, was treated with one of the drugs developed from Honjo's work.

The winners of this year's physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday.

Last year's prize went to three Americans for work in identifying genes and proteins that work in the body's biological clock, which affects functions such as sleep patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

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