James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

01 October, 2018, 16:38 | Author: Kara Nash
  • James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

The scientists' work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely hard to treat.

James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries which led to the development of cancer therapies that work by harnessing the body's own immune system.

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.

The seminal discoveries represent a "paradigmatic shift in the fight against cancer", the Nobel committee said, since they do so not by targeting the tumor cells but by tweaking the immune system.

In 1995, Allison was one of two scientists to identify the ligand CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells. CTLA- 4 functions as a brake on T cells that inhibits the function of the accelerator.

The method researched by the scientists have found out ways to remove the brakes on cells that fight attackers. Releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors, he found.


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.

In a statement to reporters after learning of his award, Allison said he was "honored and humbled". "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the Nobel committee stated.

Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug for the treatment of cancer. "The immune system was neglected because there was no strong evidence it could be effective", said Nadia Guerra, head of a cancer laboratory at Imperial College London.

Capping off the science prizes, the award for chemistry will follow on Wednesday. It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly.

The 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize will be shared by James Allison of the University of Texas and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University.

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

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