Scientists behind game-changing cancer immunotherapies win Nobel medicine prize

Scientists behind game-changing cancer immunotherapies win Nobel medicine prize

Allison, professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, worked on a protein known as CTLA-4 and realized that if this could be blocked, a brake would be released, unleashing immune cells to attack tumors. Honjo has separately discovered a second protein on immune cells.

The winners were chosen for "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".

While Allison studied a known protein that operated as a brake on immune cells and developed the concept into a new treatment for cancer patients, Honjo discovered a new protein that also operated in a similar fashion but under a different mechanism of action. "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". In 2013, Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its Breakthrough of the Year, citing Allison's work as crucial to immunotherapy's rapid advancement, and The Economist honoured him with its Innovations Award in Bioscience.

Thanks to Allison's doggedness, anti-CTLA-4 therapy is now an accepted therapy for cancer and it opened the floodgates for a slew of new immunotherapies, Krummel said.

Their discovery led to a "landmark in our fight against cancer", according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

For decades researchers had been trying to figure out effective ways to use the body's own immune system against cancer.

The Nobel assembly honored Allison for work that led to the development of Bristol-Myers Squibb's immuno-oncology drug Yervoy.

Allison's work, much of it done at the University of California-Berkley, changed that by proving the immune system could identify tumor cells and act against them. Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer.

"I don't know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley", Allison said.

Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform, is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most coveted award for discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.

After Allison himself replicated the experiment, "that's when I said, OK, we've got something here". He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment. "We need more basic science research to do that".

For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.

Meanwhile, the fact that the literature prize will not be handed over this year has grabbed several headlines. Therapies based on his method have also proved effective in fighting cancer.

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