Allison and Tasuku Honjo have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their discovery of a type of cancer treatment that harnesses a person's own immune system, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced this morning (Oct. 1).
It was a rare award for a key cancer breakthrough, in this case the discovery that the immune system can be tweaked to unleash tumor-attacking T cells.
"Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers", the Lasker Foundation wrote when it awarded Allison its 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.
At a news conference in Kyoto, Honjo expressed joy at winning the prize. The discoveries led to one of the decade's major advance in cancer therapy - drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. 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.
Two scientists have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for "landmark" research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer.
Mr Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Mr Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, in 2014 won the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research. 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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Allison, 70, of the University of Texas Austin, studied a known protein and developed the concept into a new treatment approach.
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved an anti-CTLA-4 antibody (ipilimumab) as a treatment for late-stage melanoma.
"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", he said.
Allison, whose mother died of lymphoma, built on that research over the next 40 years, mostly in California and in Texas, where he is now chair of immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The award ceremony is scheduled to be held in Stockholm on December 10, and a total of 9 million Swedish kronur, or approximately 115 million yen, in prize money will be presented to Honjo and Allison.
Perlmann said he had not yet managed to contact Allison. 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.
"We need these drugs to work for more people", Allison said. Lanier says he often spent Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with Allison in the mid-1990s, and remembers Allison talking about the initial experiments that showed him CTLA-4 could fight cancer in mice. Lower right: Antibodies against PD-1 inhibit the function of the brake leading to activation of T cells and highly efficient attack on cancer cells. He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.