Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Health Care | By Edgar Pierce

James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

Allison's work explored how a protein can function as a brake on the immune system, and how the immune cells can combat tumors if the brake is released.

Allison's work led to development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug which would become the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma.

Honjo of Japan "discovered a protein on immune cells and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action".

The two immunologists - from the US and Japan, respectively - were awarded the Prize "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". Dr. Allison's work has led to new and effective cancer therapies that free the immune system to attack tumors, a breakthrough called immune checkpoint blockade. Honojo's lab discovered when they injected antibodies against PD-1 that cancer cells could no longer dupe the T-cells.

Dr Allison looked at a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system.

Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug and developed for the treatment of cancer.

After his bachelor's in microbiology and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Texas, Allison went to Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation near San Diego, for his postdoctoral fellowship. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living for 10 years and beyond, unprecedented results, according to the cancer center.

Six years later, Allison, who was then a professor in the Division of Immunology and Director of the Cancer Research Laboratory at the University of Berkeley in California, demonstrated that the molecule CD28 is the "gas pedal" that T cells need for activation.

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"Targeted therapies don't cure cancer, but immunotherapy is curative, which is why many consider it the biggest advance in a generation", Allison said in a 2015 interview.

In a statement to reporters after learning of his award, Allison said he was "honored and humbled". He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.

"We need these drugs to work for more people", Allison said.

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".

The literature prize will not be given this year because of a sexual misconduct scandal at the body that decides the award.

Arnault, 72, is married to a member of the Swedish Academy which selects the Nobel Literature Prize victor, and his cultural club Forum received generous funding from the Academy.

The Nobel Prize for physics is set to be announced on Tuesday. That's because our immune systems typically fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, and mostly ignore the cells created within our bodies - which include cancer cells.

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