Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

Allison and Tasuku Honjo were jointly awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on cancer therapy, the Nobel Committee announced in Stockholm on Monday.

"Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said, on awarding 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.28 million Cdn). "James P. Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system".

He said the idea of blocking the brakes on immune system cells has led to drugs for the skin cancer melanoma, and cancers of the lung, head and neck, bladder, kidney, and liver. It was a breakthrough drug that turned an invariably fatal cancer that killed patients within months into one that could be cured, albeit in only a minority (about 20 percent) of patients.

Honjo, who has worked as a professor at Kyoto University in Japan for the past 34 years, discovered a protein on immune cells and illustrated how that too can operate as a break, though with a different action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the Nobel committee stated.

"I'm honoured 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.

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"For more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer". And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma. It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly.

The Nobel Prize in Physics is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry.

The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week.

No Nobel Literature Prize is being given this year because the Swedish Academy, the body that choses the literature victor, has been in turmoil after sex abuse and financial scandal allegations.

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