Revolutionary cancer-fighting treatment earns scientists Nobel Prize in medicine

The Nobel prize laureate in medicine or physiology 2018 is shown on the screen James P Allison left and Tasuku Honjo during the presentation at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden Monday Oct. 1 2018. The citation for this year's Nobel

The Nobel prize laureate in medicine or physiology 2018 is shown on the screen James P Allison left and Tasuku Honjo during the presentation at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden Monday Oct. 1 2018. The citation for this year's Nobel

Dr. Allison told a news conference he was in a "state of shock" hours after learning from his son that he had won a Nobel prize.

Allison also said he was "honored and humbled" by the award. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge".

Allison, 70, studied a protein that puts the brakes on the immune system.

Tap here to watch an animation on how it works. Since 2012 he has been professor at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas and is affiliated with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. He realised the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours. In a key mouse experiment around Christmas 1994, Allison found that when mice with cancer were treated with CTLA-4-blocking antibodies, they were cured. His work led to development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug. In 2011 a drug based on CTLA-4, ipilimumab, was approved for treating melanoma. It is known commercially as Yervoy.

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 hard to treat.

My first words when I walked into her room were ones I never dreamed I'd say to someone with advanced cancer: "I can't see the cancer on your scans anymore".

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We now know that the current crop of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs will help a minority of patients across many cancers, but still fail the majority. The fact Allison and Honjo have managed to overcome these tactics makes their feat all the more impressive. He performed his prize-winning studies at the University of California Berkeley and at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY.

Allison developed this idea into a new type of cancer treatment.

"Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer". It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly. "Clearly, immunotherapy now has taken its place along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a reliable and objective way to treat cancer". Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica.

Kim Hyo-sun tells us more.

Allison said scientists need to better understand "how these drugs work and how they might best be combined with other therapies to improve treatment and reduce unwanted side effects". He holds the Vivian Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology and serves as deputy director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research in Genitourinary Cancers in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide and it is estimated that this year, 9.6 million people will die from cancer.

A ceremony at which the prizes are bestowed will be held December 10.

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