Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Scientists Who Developed Breakthrough Cancer Treatment

Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

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.

He realized the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing immune cells to attack tumors. Allison spent 17 years convincing others that this approach could work, leading to approval in 2011 of the drug Yervoy, which showed near-miraculous results for a fraction of patients with a lethal form of skin cancer.

Allison and Honjo discovered two different "brake" proteins that act slightly differently.

Speaking to NPR in 2016, Allison said in his experiments on mice with cancer, he tinkered with one key molecule on the outside of T cells in the rodent's immune system. "By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year's #NobelPrize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy".

"We are thrilled to see Jim's work recognized by the Nobel Committee", said Russell Vance, the current director of the Cancer Research Laboratory and a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology. And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma.

While Allison was working on CTLA-4, Honjo and his colleagues were studying another T-cell protein called PD-1, or programed death-1, which they identified in 1992. Allison developed this idea into a new type of cancer treatment.

Allison said in a statement early Monday, "I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".

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The therapy "has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the statement added.

Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas in this picture obtained from MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas on October 1, 2018 (R) and Kyoto University Professor Tasuku Honjo in Kyoto, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo September 17, 2018.

In 2016, after being treated with a drug inspired by Prof Honjo's research, he announced that he no longer needed treatment.

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. "And I thought, 'If we could do that in people, this is going to be wonderful'". "It represents a paradigmatic shift and a landmark in the fight against cancer".

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.

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

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