Nobel-winning therapy weaponises immune system against cancer

James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison and Tasaku Honjo by the Nobel Committee for advances in discovering how the body's immune system can fight off the scourge of cancer.

Clinical studies document successful fights against melanoma, lymphoma, lung cancer and renal cancer, and further studies indicate therapy combining CTLA-4 and PD-1 treatments could be even more effective for melanoma patients.

Cancer immunotherapy trains the body's immune system to attack cancer cells the same way the body attacks bacteria and viruses.

The pair were honoured "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel Assembly said.

James Allison, from the University of Texas, and Tasuku Honjo, from Japan's Kyoto University, worked in parallel as they tried to stimulate the immune system's ability to attack tumours.

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement released by the university's MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he is a professor.

Prof Honjo said the award came "completely out of the blue" and "of course, I was very happy, delighted at the same time, but shocked". "The number of different types of cancers for which this approach to immunotherapy is being found to be effective in at least some patients continues to grow". "They are living proof of the power of basic science".

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If you create these chances, you'll make mistakes. "He had, for sure, moments like this, but he's such a positive [person]. It wasn't like he finished last season, but he needed time last year and he will take time this year.

Honjo, 76, meanwhile, vowed to push ahead with his work.

The duo will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros).

The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

Despite little initial interest from the pharmaceutical industry, that antibody became ipilimumab, which in 2011 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat metastatic melanoma. "His research has led to life-saving treatments for people who otherwise would have little hope".

His research also led to the first-ever immune checkpoint inhibitor drug.

Allison is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most preeminent award for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.

Other cancer treatments have previously been awarded Nobel prizes, including methods for hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplantation for leukaemia in 1990.

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