MD Anderson professor talks about Nobel Prize win

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded jointly to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovery of...

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded jointly to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovery of...

The two scientists will share the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize.

The discovery of a protein called PD-1 by Honjo and his team has led to the development of Opdivo, a drug used against lung cancer and melanoma which enhances patients' immunity in fighting cancer.

The Nobel Committee members said they are hopeful that combinations of these drugs and other therapies will allow more cancer patients to benefit with fewer side effects. Treatments that focus on the immune system or immunotherapy is widely acknowledged as one of the most exciting potential treatments for cancer. In 2011 a drug based on CTLA-4, ipilimumab, was approved for treating melanoma.

"The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer", the institute said.

Honjo, who became a Kyoto University professor emeritus in 2005, is the fifth Japanese victor of a Nobel medicine prize.

His 75-year-old wife Shigeko said at the press conference, "I've taken upon myself the job of supporting my husband, so I'm very happy he received the Nobel Prize".

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The Nobel Prize in Physics and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded on October 2 and October 3, respectively.

Dr. Allison, a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, worked on a protein known as CTLA-4 and realized that if this could be blocked, a brake would be released.

Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy. "They are living proof of the power of basic science, of following our urge to learn and to understand how things work".

They are the first Nobel Prize winners of the year, as medicine or physiology is the first of five categories to be given out this week.

Their parallel work concerned proteins that act as brakes on the body's immune system.

The discoveries led to greatly improved therapies for skin cancer, as well as cancers of the lung, head, neck, kidney and liver.

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"A succession of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at MD Anderson, the University of California, Berkeley, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center played important roles in this research", he said.

In December, Allison will be honored at the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm - and he said that he looks forward to seeing fellow honoree Honjo in Stockholm, as well.

Commenting on the Nobel announcement, Kevin Harrington, a professor at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the work had revolutionized cancer treatment.

The physics prize is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry.

The scandal has led to a bitter internal dispute that has prevented the Academy from functioning properly, and as a result it postponed this year's Literature Prize until 2019 - the first time the prize has been delayed since 1949.

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