Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for New Weapon Against Cancer

Fredrik Sandberg | TT via AP

Fredrik Sandberg | TT via AP

TWO immunologists, James Allison of the U.S. and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer, the jury said on Monday. "By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year's #NobelPrize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy". Allison found a way to manipulate the protein, allowing immune cells to attack tumors directly. In the 1990s, their research on the basic biology of the human immune system led to a class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, reports Joe Neel for NPR.

Other cancer treatments have been awarded Nobel prizes, including hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplants for leukemia in 1990. They're approved for treating some versions of melanoma, bladder cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer and lung cancer.

A former UC Berkeley cancer researcher has been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his groundbreaking work that began on the Berkeley campus and continued when he moved on to University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"We probably have four or five patients from the early 2000's that had a life expectancy of one year who are still coming to clinic to visit us". The two scientists will share the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize.

We now know that the current crop of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs will help a minority of patients across many cancers, but still fail the majority.

Separately, Prof Honjo discovered a new protein on immune cells, finding that that too acts as a brake.

The prizes for physics, chemistry, and peace will also be announced this week. Since 2012 he has been professor at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas and is affiliated with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

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When Jim Allison suggested that hypothesis, the mandarins of the cancer research establishment scoffed-or worse, ignored him.

"Targeted therapies don't cure cancer, but immunotherapy is curative, which is why many consider it the biggest advance in a generation", Allison said in a 2015 interview. Just like the other cancer treatments, this also has side effects such as overactive immune response leading to autoimmune reactions, which means the body's own cells are treated as foreign bodies and the immune system fights against the cells.

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.

"For more than 100 years scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer", the Nobel organization said in a statement.

Anti-PD-1 antibodies are more effective than those directed against CTLA-4 and have led to the creation of effective treatments for lung, kidney, skin and lymphoma cancer. The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year.

The winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine are shown during a during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 1, 2018.

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