University of Texas professor wins Nobel Prize in Medicine

University of Texas professor wins Nobel Prize in Medicine

University of Texas professor wins Nobel Prize in Medicine

James Allison of the University of Texas and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University will share the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize for 2018. From 1974-1977 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, California.

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

The discoveries led to the creation of a multibillion-dollar market for new cancer medicines. Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers for which Allison plays harmonica.

"I've been doing this sort of stuff for years, and I'd never seen anything like that", Allison said.

Unlike more traditional forms of cancer treatment that directly target cancer cells, Allison and Honjo figured out how to help the patient's own immune system tackle the cancer more quickly.

Tasuku Honjo, distinguished professor at Kyoto University, speaks at a news conference at the university in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward on October 1, 2018, after it was announced that he has won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine. Immunologist Tasuku Honjo, 76, conducts his research at Kyoto University in Japan.

"A lot of conventional cancer therapies are about destroying cells and can be quite damaging, but this is much more targeted and much more specific because it's enabling our immune cells to come in and actually kill the tumour cells directly", she told AFP. Their approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had "revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the committee said.

In 2016, after being treated with a drug inspired by Prof Honjo's research, he announced that he no longer needed treatment. Allison also is deputy director of the David H Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at MD Anderson and holds the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology.

Despite little initial interest from the pharmaceutical industry, that antibody became ipilimumab, which in 2011 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat metastatic melanoma.

Allison spent the next few years amassing data in mice to show that anti-CTLA-4 antibodies work, and then, in collaboration with a biotech firm called Medarex, developed human antibodies that showed promise in early clinical trials against melanoma and other cancers.

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

A member of his golf club approached him and thanked him for his efforts, he said. In 2000, the researchers described PD-L1, programmed death-ligand 1, a protein found on normal cell and cancer cells that binds to PD-1, and a year later, the team reported a second molecule that binds to PD-1, PD-L2.

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