American, Japanese win Nobel prize in medicine

A screen displays portraits of James Allison and Tasuku Honju winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Oct 1 2018

The Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to James Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel committee announced on Monday in Stockholm.

Jim Allison, the chairman of the center's Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for the pair's pioneering research into cancer treatment. He announced about a year later 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.

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

"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", he said in a statement on his university's website.

On the website of his University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Allison said he was "honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition". The therapy is created to remove this protein "brake" and allow the immune system to more quickly get to work fighting the cancer. "One challenge is that the clinical success has outrun our scientific knowledge of how these drugs work and how they might best be combined with other therapies to improve treatment and reduce unwanted side effects".


"Jim Allison's accomplishments on behalf of patients can not be overstated", says MD Anderson president Peter WT Pisters, M.D., in a statement. Lanier says he often spent Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with Allison in the mid-1990s, and remembers Allison talking about the initial experiments that showed him CTLA-4 could fight cancer in mice.

Allison "realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors", the Nobel jury said during Monday's prize announcement in Stockholm. "Doing basic science can have major results in human health care", he says.

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.

His drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. "They are living proof of the power of basic science", he added.

The pair were honoured "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel Assembly said. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 108 times to 214 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2017.

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