American, Japanese cancer researchers share Nobel Prize in medicine

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Two immunologists, James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research that has revolutionised the treatment of cancer, the jury said on Monday.

Allison, 70, "realised the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours", the Nobel jury said during Monday's prize announcement in Stockholm. Their work has been crucial to developing new and extremely effective treatments.

Meanwhile, Allison left UC Berkeley in 2004 for Memorial Sloan Kettering research center in NY to be closer to the drug companies shepherding his therapy through clinical trials, and to explore in more detail how checkpoint blockade works.

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a written statement. The first anti-PD-1 drugs were pembrolizumab (Merck's Keytruda), and nivolumab (Bristol-Myers Sqibb's Opdivo), both initially approved in 2014 for the treatment of melanoma: Both block the PD-1 (programmed cell death 1) protein on the surface of the immune system T cells, with the result that those cells attack and, sometimes, eliminate the tumor.

Also on Monday, a French photographer at the center of the scandal that led to the unprecedented postponement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature was sentenced to two years in prison for rape.

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The prize will be presented to Honjo, 76, and James Allison, professor at the University of Texas.

For decades researchers had been trying to figure out effective ways to use the body's own immune system against cancer.

The therapy "has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the statement added.

"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", Allison said.

Eric Vivier, professor of immunology at Marseille University, said the immunotherapy breakthrough was good news for everyone - especially cancer patients.

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Allison started his career at MD Anderson in 1977, arriving as one of the first employees of a new basic science research center located in Smithville, Texas.

"Science advances on the efforts of many", Allison said. "I'd like to express my gratitude to many people, including my co-researchers, students, those who supported our research and my family", he said. Honojo's lab discovered when they injected antibodies against PD-1 that cancer cells could no longer dupe the T-cells.

Crucial funding for his research over the years has come from the National Institutes of Health, particularly the National Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Cancer Research Institute, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Stand Up to Cancer and PICI.

A member of his golf club approached him and thanked him for his efforts, he said. Lower right: Antibodies against PD-1 inhibit the function of the brake leading to activation of T cells and highly efficient attack on cancer cells.

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