Japanese, American scientists win Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

Henrietta Brewer
October 4, 2018

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. Up until then, the standard arsenal consisted of surgery to remove the tumor and radiation and chemotherapy to poison the cancer.

The citation for this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine says the two honorees developed therapies for treating cancer.

The two scientists will share the prize of $1.39. "I'd like to just give a shout out to all the patients out there who are suffering from cancer to let them know that we are making progress now".

The award recognizes Allison's pioneering research into immunotherapy, a major new tactic in fighting cancer.

Japanese, American scientists win Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

"This important discovery has opened a whole new area of cancer treatment and we are proud of both Dr. Allison and Dr. Honjo's impactful research", said Janet Rossant, president and scientific director of the Toronto-based Gairdner Foundation. He was treated with a drug inspired by the research of new Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo, and announced in 2016 that he no longer needed treatment.

Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee and the Nobel Assembly, told a press conference that Honjo "sounded extremely pleased" at the news. Colleagues arrived at his hotel room with champagne at 6:30 a.m.in the morning to celebrate.

Tasuku Honjo and James P. Allison shown in a composite photo.

"He told me, 'Thanks to you I can play golf again.' ... A comment like that makes me happier than any prize".

The method researched by the scientists have found out ways to remove the brakes on cells that fight attackers. But for poorly understood reasons, it was hard to rev them up against cancer.

American James Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system.

A previous version of this story identified Allison as affiliated with University of Texas at Austin.

Meanwhile, in 1992, Honjo independently discovered a second checkpoint, and conducted similar experiments. Realising many of these drugs work best in conjunction with each other, collaborations between pharma companies have started to create even more effective treatments.

The prize recognizes Allison's basic science discoveries on the biology of T cells, the adaptive immune system's soldiers, and his invention of immune checkpoint blockade to treat cancer. As a researcher, "I like being on the edge and being wrong a lot".

After the announcement of the winners, the supporters and well wishers started to celebrate the victory.

Also on Monday, a French photographer at the center of the scandal that led to the unprecedented postponement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature was sentenced to two years in prison for rape.

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