US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

Immunologists James Allison of the United States and Tasuko Honjo of Japan won the Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for research in how the body's natural defenses can fight the scourge of cancer.

'Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer, ' the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said in a statement on awarding the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns (£770,000). The first anti-PD-1 drugs were pembrolizumab (Merck's Keytruda), and nivolumab (Bristol-Myers Sqibb's Opdivo), both initially approved in 2014 for the treatment of melanoma: Both block the PD-1 (programmed cell death 1) protein on the surface of the immune system T cells, with the result that those cells attack and, sometimes, eliminate the tumor. "We need more basic science research to do that". "They are living proof of the power of basic science".

"Science advances on the efforts of many", Allison said.

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

It was a rare award for a key cancer breakthrough, in this case the discovery that the immune system can be tweaked to unleash tumor-attacking T cells. In particular, drugs targeting PD-1 blockade have proved a big commercial hit, offering new options for patients with melanoma, lung and bladder cancers. "The number of different types of cancers for which this approach to immunotherapy is being found to be effective in at least some patients continues to grow". Allison then spent more than 15 years convincing other scientists and drug companies that his approach could work. "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".

Allison has collaboratively worked with scientists around the globe to expand the field of immunotherapy.

The MD Anderson immunologist was featured in a 2015 report by KPRC2.

Crucial funding for his research over the years has come from the National Institutes of Health, particularly the National Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Cancer Research Institute, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Stand Up to Cancer and PICI. The economics laureate, which is not technically a Nobel but is given in honor of Alfred Nobel, the prizes' founder, will be announced next Monday.

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