The Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to James Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel committee announced on Monday in Stockholm.
The duo will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros).
"By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells this year's Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy", the Nobel Prize Foundation said in a statement. Meanwhile, Honjo separately discovered a second protein on immune cells that also acted as a brake but with a different mechanism.
The scientists' work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely hard to treat.
Around the same time, Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells, the ligand PD-1, and eventually realised that it also worked a brake, but it acted differently. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed". "I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us", he said. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge".More news: Ryder Cup pairings and schedule for Saturday afternoon foursomes
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".
Allison, 70, is now chair of the department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer.
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.
The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.