American James Allison, Japan’s Tasuku Honjo Win 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine

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The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, by the Nobel committee of the Karolinska Institute.

Therapy developed from Honjo's work led to long-term remission in patients with metastatic cancer that had been considered essentially untreatable, the Nobel Assembly said.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved an anti-CTLA-4 antibody (ipilimumab) as a treatment for late-stage melanoma. In ongoing research, scientists are finding that combination therapy targeting both CTLA-4 and PD-1 can be even more effective, the Nobel citation noted.

Allison has collaboratively worked with scientists around the globe to expand the field of immunotherapy. Their approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had "revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the committee said. This practice contrasts with radiation therapy and standard chemotherapy, which directly attack cancerous tumors. "I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us", he said.

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

The discoveries by Allison, 70, and Honjo, 76, "absolutely paved the way for a new approach to cancer treatment", Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, told The Associated Press.

"His actions helped create the superb research environment here, which is so conducive to making the fundamental discoveries that will be the basis of the next generation of medical breakthroughs", Raulet said. Since 2012 he has been professor at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas and is affiliated with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

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Allison's research was conducted at the University of California, Berkeley. This attitude rubbed off on the team. "The tumors went away".

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

The discovery led to a concept called "checkpoint blockade".

Cancerous tumors are notoriously skilled at dodging our immune systems. He revealed that it can also be operating as a brake, but with a different mechanism. In other words, this cancer therapy relies somewhat on serendipity.

Allison started his career at MD Anderson in 1977, arriving as one of the first employees of a new basic science research center located in Smithville, Texas. "There's no hospital, no patients". Allison then spent more than 15 years convincing other scientists and drug companies that his approach could work.

Taku Okazaki of Tokushima University was a graduate student in Honjo's lab when the group initially investigated PD-1. Some types of cancers can intentionally stimulate PD-1 on T-cells, causing the immune bodyguards to take a hike. They're approved for treating some versions of melanoma, bladder cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer and lung cancer.

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