The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to James Allison and Tasuku Honjo “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”
American and Japanese immunologists are awarded Nobel Medicine Prize for research for their work on cancer therapy.
Two immunologists, James Allison from the University of Texas Austin and Tasuku Honjo from Kyoto University, have won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research that has revolutionised the treatment of cancer.
The pair were honoured 'for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation,' the Nobel Assembly said.
Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy targets proteins made by some immune system cells, as well as some cancer cells. The proteins can stop the body's natural defences from killing cancer cells. The therapy is designed to remove this protein 'brake' and allow the immune system to more quickly get to work fighting the cancer.
'Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer,' the Stockholm-based assembly said in a statement.
Releasing the potential of immune cells to attack cancers joins other treatments including surgery, radiation and drugs. In 2014 Professor Allison and Professor Honjo won the Tang Prize which is touted as Asia's version of the Nobels.
The duo will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million/ 870,000 euros/ £770,000). They will receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.
Professor James Allison from the University of Texas received his bachelor's degree in 1969 and doctorate in 1973 in biological science at The University of Texas at Austin.
He is now chair of immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
For decades, Professor Allison has studied how certain immune cells in our bodies, called T-cells, work.
T-cells identify and wipe out foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses.
Professor Allison discovered that one molecule in T-cells, called CTLA-4, acts as a kind of brake.
Some cancers defend themselves from our immune systems by activating these brakes.
Professor Allison is currently involved in clinical trials that combine his anti-cancer drug with a second one that helps T-cells go after cancer.
Metastatic melanoma patients started receiving this combined therapy more than three years ago, and so far, three in five are still alive.
Professor Tasuku Honjo was born in 1942 and did his undergraduate at the School of Medicine at Kyoto University.
He stayed on for his PhD and is now a professor emeritus at the university.
His work has been described as initiating a historic turning point—a 'penicillin moment'—in the fight against cancer.
He discovered an immunoregulatory molecule called PD-1.
This has led to a new class of cancer drugs that unleash the body's own immune system against cancer.
PD-1 is a protein produced on the surface of some T-cells and can be thought of as the 'brakes' of the immune system.
The protein helps keep the immune system from running out of control and attacking normal, healthy cells.
Professor Honjo thought that if PD-1 could be blocked then perhaps a patient's own immune system could be used against cancer cells.
Today, PD-1 inhibitors such as the drugs nivolumab and pembrolizumab are showing promise for more effective treatment of certain types of cancer, such as melanoma.