Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

Checkpoint inhibitor scientists win Nobel Prize

Allison and Tasuku Honjo have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their discovery of a type of cancer treatment that harnesses a person's own immune system, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced this morning (Oct. 1).

The researchers will share a prize of 9 million Swedish kronor (just over $1 million).

"In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action".

He said the idea of blocking the brakes on immune system cells has led to drugs for the skin cancer melanoma, and cancers of the lung, head and neck, bladder, kidney, and liver.

The discoveries by Allison, 70, and Honjo, 76, "absolutely paved the way for a new approach to cancer treatment", Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, told The Associated Press.

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.

"I would like to keep on doing my that this immune treatment could save more cancer patients", he said.

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Allison's research was conducted at the University of California, Berkeley.

"For more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

"With another postdoc I did some side experiments on how tumors are recognized by the immune system", Allison told the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2016.

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.

A ceremony at which the prizes are bestowed will be held December 10.

Last year's prize went to three Americans for work in identifying genes and proteins that work in the body's biological clock, which affects functions such as sleep patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week. The Nobel prize can only be awarded to individuals, but it is important to remember that others would have been involved in the discoveries.

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