Houston scientist wins Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison and Tasaku Honjo by the Nobel Committee for advances in discovering how the body's immune system can fight off the scourge of cancer.

In 2016, after being treated with a drug inspired by Prof Honjo's research, he announced that he no longer needed treatment. The discovery led to effective treatments.

Dr Allison, 70, said he was "honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".

Perlmann said he had not yet managed to contact Allison. 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. "A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge". Lanier says he often spent Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with Allison in the mid-1990s, and remembers Allison talking about the initial experiments that showed him CTLA-4 could fight cancer in mice.

READ | Who is Nobel Medicine Prize victor James P Allison? "We need more basic science research to do that".

"A succession of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at MD Anderson, the University of California, Berkeley, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center played important roles in this research".

He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy.

Allison's drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma.

"It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade", he added.

Commenting on Monday's award, Dan Davis, an immunologist at Britain's University of Manchester, said "this game-changing cancer therapy" has "sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses". "They are living proof of the power of basic science". 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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