Cancer Researchers Win 2018 Nobel Prize For Medicine

Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

An American and a Japanese scientist have won the 2018 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for discovery of a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment.

"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 the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1 million).

"Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer", the assembly said in a statement. Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer.

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"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. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.

Allison, 70, is now chair of the department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The first anti-PD-1 drugs were pembrolizumab (Merck's Keytruda), and nivolumab (Bristol-Myers Sqibb's Opdivo), both initially approved in 2014 for the treatment of melanoma: Both block the PD-1 (programmed cell death 1) protein on the surface of the immune system T cells, with the result that those cells attack and, sometimes, eliminate the tumor.

"The seminal discoveries by the two laureates constitute a paradigmatic shift and a landmark in the fight against cancer".

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Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.

"However, advanced cancer remains immensely hard to treat, and novel therapeutic strategies are desperately needed", the Nobel Assembly said.

In other Nobel Prize announcements, the physics prize will be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry on Wednesday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

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Last year, United States geneticists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the medicine prize for their research on the role of genes in setting the "circadian clock" which regulates sleep and eating patterns, hormones and body temperature.

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