James Allison, Tasuku Honjo win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer research

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The 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine was awarded to American and Japanese immunologist James P Allison and Tasuku Honzo for their discovery of “cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”. This year’s Nobel prize constitutes a landmark in our fight against cancer, wrote the Nobel Foundation in the micro blogging site Twitter while announcing this year’s laureates.

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 difficult to treat.

“The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said as it awarded the prize of nine million Swedish crowns ($1 million).

Allison and Honjo “showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer,” it said, adding that resulting treatments, known as immune checkpoint blockade, have “fundamentally changed the outcome” for some advanced cancer patients.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.

The literature prize will not be handed out this year after the awarding body was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal. A Swedish court on Monday found a man at the centre of the scandal guilty of rape and sentenced him to two years in jail.

Allison, professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system and realised the potential for unleashing immune cells to attack tumours if the brake could be released.

Honjo, professor at Kyoto University since 1984, separately discovered a second protein on immune cells and revealed that it too operated as a brake, but with a different mechanism.

“The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer,” the institute said.

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