The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly on Monday to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their "discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel committee announced on Monday.
The discoveries by Allison, 70, and Honjo, 76, "absolutely paved the way for a new approach to cancer treatment", Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, told The Associated Press.
The researchers will share a prize of 9 million Swedish kronor (just over $1 million).
Last year, U.S. geneticists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the medicine prize for their research on the role of genes in setting the "circadian clock" which regulates sleep and eating patterns, hormones and body temperature. 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.
Both laureates studied proteins that prevent the body and its main immune cells, known as T-cells, from attacking tumour cells effectively.
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Allison "realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors", the Karolinska Institute said on Monday.
In 1992, Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells called PD-1.
Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug for the treatment of cancer.
USA drugmakers Merck & Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb now lead the field after winning drug approvals in 2014, but Roche, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sanofi are also fielding rivals. But he made a switch that changed his life and helped show the value of rallying the immune system to fight cancer.
Writing on his cancer centre's website, Allison said he was "honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition". Allison conducted the research at the University of California-Berkeley. And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma.