US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine

James P Allison of U.S. and Tasaku Honjo of Japan jointly won the Nobel Medicine Prize for their discovery of cancer therapy by "inhibition of negative immune regulation".

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

The winners were chosen for "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". He realized that if he could release that "brake", the immune system would wreak havoc on tumors.

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.

In 1992, Japanese scientist, Tasuku Honjo from Kyoto University, separately discovered another protein on immune cells called PD-1 and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action to CTLA-4.

The Nobel Assembly said after announcing the prize in Stockholm that the therapy "has now revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed". Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.

Allison and Honjo did parallel work to stimulate the body's immune system's ability to attack tumors. He is now active at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told the AP.

Research by Allison's team has meanwhile led to the development of a monoclonal antibody drug, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for the treatment of melanoma. "The number of different types of cancers for which this approach to immunotherapy is being found to be effective in at least some patients continues to grow".

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.

Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday and the economics laureate will be announced next Monday.

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