1159 GMT October 22, 2019
American James P. Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo found that the body's own immune system could be turned on cancers, marking a major breakthrough in our fight against the disease, independent.co.uk reported.
Professor Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system.
He realized the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing immune cells to attack tumors. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients.
Professor Honjo "discovered a protein on immune cells and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer," the Nobel committee wrote in their citation.
They will share the prize, which is worth nine million Swedish kronor or roughly £800,000.
"Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. 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 committee wrote.
Scientists have long thought that it might be possible to use the immune system — which has the central job of finding things that don't belong in the body and getting rid of them — and turn it on cancerous cells in the body. Despite numerous attempts, that has yielded few practical results, in part because the ‘brake’ in the body stops immune cells from attacking cancers.
But the discovery of the two new Nobel laureates was a way of taking off that brake, allowing the body to attack its own cancerous tumors. It has already had spectacular results.
"For more than 100 years scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer," the committee wrote. "Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest. Checkpoint therapy has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed."
Last year, the same prize was given to three scientists — Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young — who made pioneering discoveries about how the body clock works in humans. Those same discoveries could help vastly improve the way people sleep.
A screen displays portraits of James P. Allison (L) and Tasuku Honjo during the announcement of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on October 1.