Published: Fri, October 05, 2018
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Scientists Who Developed Breakthrough Cancer Treatment

Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Scientists Who Developed Breakthrough Cancer Treatment

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

The Nobel Prize for medicine has been awarded to two researchers from the US and Japan for their pioneering work on using the body's own immune system to fight off cancer.

Initially, Allison and Honjo's discoveries attracted little interest from the pharmaceutical industry.

Allison says he didn't set out to study cancer, but to better "understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us".

Based on his discovery, Ono Pharmaceutical Co., headquartered in Osaka and Medarex Inc. of the United States jointly developed the drug. They have shown remarkable success against cancers such metastatic melanoma, bladder and lung cancers, sparking a revolution in treatment and a billion dollar market for the drugs.

"It is all about interference with the brakes of our immune system as a means to unleash this defense and harness it to develop treatment of cancer", said Klas Karre, an immunologist at Sweden's Karolinska Institute and a member of the Nobel committee, after the announcement in Stockholm this morning.

Two immunologists have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their revolutionary research into cancer treatment. Cancer cells can latch onto these checkpoints, allowing the malignant cells to go unnoticed.

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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. Allison's team created a drug that could stick to CTLA-4 and prevent it from working.

Two proteins are involved in the brake process-one is PD-1 (Tasuku Honjo discovered in 1992) and the other CTLA-4 (James P Allison studied during the 1990s).

These drugs were essentially tested on forms of skin related cancer but are today used to treat many mature staged cancers like those in the liver, neck, kidney and colon.

In December, Allison will be honored at the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm - and he said that he looks forward to seeing fellow honoree Honjo in Stockholm, as well.

And soon, "there were people beating on my door at 6 in the morning with champagne", he said. Honjo assembled his team in the lab to enjoy the recognition.

Japan's leader said over a speaker phone that Honjo's research had given many patients hope. "We need more basic science research to do that", Allison said.

Currently, numerous drugs on the market are expensive and have side effects, reports Karen Weintraub for Scientific American.

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