Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

James Allison, whose early work at Scripps Research in La Jolla set him on a path to using the immune system to successfully fight cancer, reached the pinnacle of science Monday when he was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer. Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer.

Allison's and Honjo's work focussed on proteins that act as brakes on the immune system - preventing the body's main immune cells, known as T-cells, from attacking tumours effectively.

"For more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

Mr Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Mr Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, in 2014 won the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.

The two immunologists - from the USA and Japan, respectively - were awarded the Prize "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". "Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the Nobel jury said. The discovery led to effective treatments.

Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the Nobel committee stated.

Meanwhile, the fact that the literature prize will not be handed over this year has grabbed several headlines.

Therapy developed from Honjo's work led to long-term remission in patients with metastatic cancer that had been considered essentially untreatable, the Nobel Assembly said.

The physics prize is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry.

The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year. The economics laureate, which is not technically a Nobel but is given in honor of Alfred Nobel, the prizes' founder, will be announced next Monday.

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