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Texas immunologist wins Nobel Prize for groundbreaking cancer treatment

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The Nobel Prize laureates in medicine or physiology are shown on a screen at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden

Congratulations to MD Anderson Cancer Center's Dr. Jim Allison, who has jointly won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his immunotherapy research.

The discoveries by Allison, 70, and Honjo, 76, "absolutely paved the way for a new approach to cancer treatment", Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, told The Associated Press.

Allison's crucial insight was to block a protein on T cells that acts as a brake on their activation, freeing the T cells to attack cancer.

The Nobel Committee members said they are hopeful that combinations of these drugs and other therapies will allow more cancer patients to benefit with fewer side effects.

T-cells are a type of white blood cell that play a central role in the body's natural immunity to disease.

Their work, on stimulating the body's immune system to attack tumours, have produced "strikingly effective" therapies, the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute said.

"A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge", Allison said in a written statement released by the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In a statement to reporters after learning of his award, Allison said he was "honored and humbled". "They are living proof of the power of basic science", he added.

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Honjo, who is now 76, told a news conference in Tokyo he was honored to get the Nobel, but that his work was not yet done.

Honjo, of Kyoto University, discovered a new protein, the ligand PD-1, which also acted as a brake on immune cells.

The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

"Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the release stated. Just last week, such a drug was approved for treatment of another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell cancer, he said.

The discoveries led to the creation of a multibillion-dollar market for new cancer medicines.

Allison's drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma.

U.S. drugmakers Merck & Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb now lead the field after winning drug approvals in 2014, but Roche, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sanofi are also fielding rivals.

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

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