Published: Wed, October 03, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

NewsAlert: Canadian, two others win Nobel Prize in physics

NewsAlert: Canadian, two others win Nobel Prize in physics

Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo on Monday won this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his discovery of a protein that contributed to the development of an immunotherapeutic drug against cancer.

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

James Allison, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre, and Kyoto University's Tasuku Honjo learned how cancer can put the brakes on the immune system - and how to release those brakes.

This is the name given to the class of cancer drug that works by unleashing the immune system to attack tumours.

The scientists' work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely hard to treat. Honjo discovered the protein, PD-1, that acts as a brake on the immune system in 1992.

The 70-year-old Allison's groundbreaking research centered on T-cells and the ability to adapt their disease fighting tendencies to target cancer cells in the body. "It was one of those moments when we figured out that CTLA-4 was the brakes on the immune system". The skin cancer disappeared in several cases. Targeting PD-1 has shown positive results in treating lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma and melanoma.

His 1994 experiment was spectacularly successful, with mice with cancer cured by treatment with the antibodies that inhibit the brake and unlock antitumor T-cell activity. "The first approved drug based on this treatment came in 2011 and patients have been treated for seven years now and we can see the long-term outcome and it's very convincing and considered, really, a big step in the fight against cancer".

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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.

He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy.

"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. "I would like to keep on doing my that this immune treatment could save more cancer patients", he said.

Allison, who was awarded a Nobel Prize today, along with Tasuku Honjo.

Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, were in 2014 awarded the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research.

Instead, it is "going to be part of therapy that potentially all cancer patients will receive in five years", he told a press conference in NY.

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