American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

The Nobel committee cited Allison's study of a protein called CTLA-4 that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized that if he could release that "brake", the immune system would wreak havoc on tumors. "He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients".

One of Carter's treatments was a drug that blocked the immune-cell "brake" studied by Honjo.

Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer. "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", he said. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday and the economics laureate will be announced next Monday. To take CTLA-4 as an example, Allison's work was part of a sequence of advances starting before Ron Schwartz and Marc Jenkins' work on costimulatory signals and running beyond Nils Lonberg's involvement in the development of the ipilimumab molecule.

The list of other possible awardees included a number of American researchers including Arlene Sharpe and Gordon Freeman at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Jedd Wolchok at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania, who pioneered another approach to immunotherapy.

For decades researchers had been trying to figure out effective ways to use the body's own immune system against cancer. The platform also collaborates with pharmaceutical companies to help them develop new drugs and combinations to better treat cancer.

After his bachelor's in microbiology and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Texas, Allison went to Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation near San Diego, for his postdoctoral fellowship.

He was recruited back to MD Anderson in November 2012 to lead the Immunology Department and to establish an immunotherapy research platform for MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program.

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Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its breakthrough of 2013 because that year, "clinical trials ... cemented its potential in patients and swayed even the skeptics". He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.

The treatments, often referred to as "immune checkpoint therapy", have "fundamentally changed the outcome for certain groups of patients with advanced cancer", it added.

"I think this is just the tip of the iceberg - many more medicines like this are on the horizon", he said.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".

No literature prize is being given this year.

The Nobel Prize is the world's most prestigious annual award for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and promotion of peace.

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