Scientists Who Sparked Revolution In Cancer Treatment Share Nobel Prize In Medicine

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

American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday for game-changing discoveries about how to harness and manipulate the immune system to fight cancer.

Their parallel work concerned proteins that act as brakes on the body's immune system and it constitutes "a landmark in our fight against cancer", said a statement from the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which selects winners of the annual prestigious award. Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system and found the means to release its potential, while Honjo similarly found a protein operating as a brake but with a different mechanism of action, the Nobel committee in Stockholm said on Monday.

Around the same time, Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells, the ligand PD-1, and eventually realised that it also worked a brake, but it acted differently.

Although the concept of using the immune system against cancer arose in the 19th century, initial treatments based on the approach were only modestly effective.

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The anti-PD-1 "checkpoint inhibitors" have proved even more effective than anti-CTLA-4 treatment, giving hope to patients with lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma, among others. Lower left: Antibodies (green) against CTLA-4 block the function of the brake leading to activation of T cells and attack on cancer cells.Upper right: PD-1 is another T-cell brake that inhibits T-cell activation.

He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the Nobel jury said. He is now active at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The literature prize will not be handed out this year after the awarding body was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal.

The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year. The peace prize will be announced on Friday, and the economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8.

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