Monday, 17 December, 2018

Scientists behind cancer immunotherapies win Nobel Prize in medicine

A screen displays portraits of James Allison and Tasuku Honju winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Oct 1 2018 James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine
Francis Osborne | 01 October, 2018, 18:44

When announcing the honor, the Nobel Assembly of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm noted in a statement that "stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year's Nobel Prize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy".

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement released by the university's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he is a professor. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.

Tap here to watch an animation on how it works.

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.

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.

"Jim Allison's accomplishments on behalf of patients can not be overstated", said MD Anderson President Peter WT Pisters, M.D. The discovery led to effective treatments.

Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.

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The seminal discoveries represent a "paradigmatic shift in the fight against cancer", the Nobel committee said, since they do so not by targeting the tumor cells but by tweaking the immune system.

In 1982, while working at The University of Texas System Cancer Center, Allison made a breakthrough discovery - identifying the T-cell antigen receptor, which allows T cells to recognize an unusual protein on the surface of another cell. 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. A monoclonal antibody therapy he pioneered was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 to treat malignant melanoma, and spawned several related therapies now being used against lung, prostate and other cancers. It is known commercially as Yervoy.

Allison's insight, Perlmann said, was to trigger the brakes instead. "They are living proof of the power of basic science", he added.

Allison pursued more clinical trials for immunotherapy at Sloan-Kettering and then in 2012 returned to his native Texas.

Today, immunotherapies based on Allison and Honjo's research work especially well for fighting advanced and aggressive tumors.

Releasing the potential of immune cells to attack cancers joins other treatments including surgery, radiation and drugs.

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