Allison's crucial insight was to block a protein on T cells that acts as a brake on their activation, freeing the T cells to attack cancer.
Both Allison and Honjo discovered how to lift the molecular "brakes" that keep our immune cells from attacking ourselves - specifically for the cancer cells that spawn inside of us. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients. Honjo discovered the protein on the surface of T cells in 1992 and set about trying to figure out its function.
The joint award to Allison and Honjo was given "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel committee said.
"We are thrilled to see Jim's work recognized by the Nobel Committee", said Russell Vance, the current director of the Cancer Research Laboratory and a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology.
Thanks to Allison's doggedness, anti-CTLA-4 therapy is now an accepted therapy for cancer and it opened the floodgates for a slew of new immunotherapies, Krummel said. By releasing that brake, Honjo's research had found a "strikingly effective" treatment against cancer.
Allison was "elated" by the award, says his longtime friend and colleague Lewis Lanier, a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, who says he spoke with Allison just after the announcement.
"This year's #NobelPrize constitutes a landmark in our fight against cancer". "I thought this was pretty cool".
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On the website of his University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Allison said he was "honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".
In 2016, after being treated with a drug inspired by Prof Honjo's research, he announced that he no longer needed treatment.
"Until the discoveries made by the 2018 Medicine Laureates, progress into clinical development was modest".
He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy.
Allison started his career at MD Anderson in 1977, arriving as one of the first employees of a new basic science research center located in Smithville, Texas.
No literature prize is being given this year.
The physics prize is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry.
At the time, most doctors and scientists believed that the immune system could not be exploited to fight cancer, because cancer cells look too much like the body's own cells, and any attack against cancer cells would risk killing normal cells and creating serious side effects.