James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo awarded Nobel Prize for cancer therapies

While there remains a lot to be done in finding proven and effective treatments for cancer, two pioneers of science have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for similar, but revolutionary, treatment methods.

The announcement made this morning (1 October) by the Swedish Academy named the researchers as American immunologist James P Allison and Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”.

The work of Honjo

Meanwhile, in parallel, Honjo was responsible for the discovery of a protein on immune cells called PD-1. After careful exploration of its function, it was eventually found that it operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.

In animal experiments, PD-1 blockade was also shown to be a promising strategy in the fight against cancer, as demonstrated by Honjo and other groups. This paved the way for utilising PD-1 as a target in the treatment of patients.

Such a discovery led to the development of therapies in 2012 that proved to be incredibly effective in our ongoing effort to eliminate cancer.

As part of the prize, the pair will share 9m Swedish krona (€871,000). Currently, Allison is a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, while Honjo has spent the last 34 years as a professor at Kyoto University.

Here is the pair discussing their research in recent years.

Nobel Prize medal. Image: LCV/Shutterstock

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