Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

James Allison, Tasuku Honjo win Nobel Prize in Medicine

James Allison, Tasuku Honjo win Nobel Prize in Medicine

The 9 million kronor ($1.01 million) prize was announced Monday by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

In fact, Allison was instrumental in creating the research environment of the current Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley as well as the department's division of immunology, in which he served stints as chair and division head during his time at Berkeley, said David Raulet, director of Berkeley's Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI).

Allison, professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system and realized the potential for unleashing immune cells to attack tumors if the brake could be released. Their work has been crucial to developing new and extremely effective treatments.

Allison has been recognised for his breakthrough research in cancer immunology with numerous awards. In a key mouse experiment around Christmas 1994, Allison found that when mice with cancer were treated with CTLA-4-blocking antibodies, they were cured.

Allison studied a protein on T cells called CTLA-4 that acts as a brake on the immune system. Drugs based on his findings also work in combination with Yervoy against a number of types of cancer.

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Therapy developed from Honjo's work led to long-term remission in patients with metastatic cancer that had been considered essentially untreatable, the Nobel Assembly said.

"When we showed (Professor Ralph) Reisfeld a paper we wrote, he actually said, 'I don't want my name on it".

Meanwhile, Allison left UC Berkeley in 2004 for Memorial Sloan Kettering research center in NY to be closer to the drug companies shepherding his therapy through clinical trials, and to explore in more detail how checkpoint blockade works.

Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy. "A comment like that makes me happier than any prize", he said.

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

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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.

The Nobel Prize is the world's most prestigious annual award for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and promotion of peace. No literature prize is being given this year.

Prior to the discoveries made by this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology winners, progress into clinical development of new cancer treatments was slow.

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