Two researchers from the U.S. and Japan have won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries that have revolutionised cancer care, turning the body's immune system loose to fight tumours in an approach credited with saving an untold number of lives.
The two winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology made discoveries that 'constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer, ' according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute that awarded the prize.
The winners were chosen for "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".
Allison, 70, "realised the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours", the Nobel jury said. Subsequent research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets, most prominently PD-1 and PD-L1, with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colorectal, and head and neck cancers and Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Dr. Honjo in a phone call, telling him: "I believe the achievements of your research have given cancer patients hope and light". It's been the most successful attempt yet to rid cancer patients of life-threatening tumours and, ultimately, the disease itself.
"The goal is to neutralise these molecules, among them CTLA-4 and PD-1, and these are what the recipients of the Nobel prize have been working on", said Pierre Goldstein, emeritus professor at the Marseille-Luminy Immunology Centre.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".
This screenshot shows the official Nobel Prize Twitter account. After pondering what career to pursue - diplomat, lawyer or doctor - Honjo entered the Faculty of Medicine at Kyoto University in 1960 and moved on to the graduate course. Before protein inhibitors were invented cancer treatments were restricted to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
In 2012, a pivotal study demonstrated clear results for patients with different types of cancer.
Prof Allison said it was "a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade". By releasing that brake, Honjo's research had found a "strikingly effective" treatment against cancer.
Allison - who received his bachelor's degree in 1969 and his doctorate in 1973 at UT Austin - shares the award with Tasuku Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University.
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.