MD Anderson professor talks about Nobel Prize win

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

Allison will share the prize with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for work that "takes advantage of the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells", the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden said in making the decision.

"I don't know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley", Allison said. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge".

Tap here to watch an animation on how it works. "We need more basic science research to do that".

Allison, whose mother died of lymphoma, built on that research over the next 40 years, mostly in California and in Texas, where he is now chair of immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Researchers from the United States and Japan won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries that help the body marshal its cellular troops to attack invading cancers. "The significance of immunotherapy as a form of cancer treatment will be felt for generations to come".

Allison, who is a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, was studying a protein called CTLA-4 that inhibits a person's immune system by putting the brakes on the actions of T cells.

The FDA approved the first PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor (pembrolizumab) to treat melanoma in 2014.

The citation for this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine says the two honorees developed therapies for treating cancer. In other words, this cancer therapy relies somewhat on serendipity.

"The discovery of Jim Allison led to the first drug that routinely caused patients with a metastatic disease - melanoma - - to go into complete remission", he said.

"It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade", he added.

The 70 year-old Allison worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Research from 1974-77, when the center was known as the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He continues his own research, focusing on the details of immune response to cancer and identifying new targets for potential treatment. It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly. The platform works with more than 100 immunotherapy clinical trials at MD Anderson addressing a variety of cancers. "I thought this was pretty cool". In a statement Monday, he urged more support for basic science research. "We patented it", Allison told The Scientist earlier this year. By 2002, the researchers had revealed that mouse cancer cells produce PD-L1 and demonstrated that blocking PD-L1 with an antibody could halt tumor growth. It was a breakthrough drug that turned an invariably fatal cancer that killed patients within months into one that could be cured, albeit in only a minority (about 20 percent) of patients.

Allison will be honored at Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm in December.

Other cancer treatments have been awarded Nobel prizes, including hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplants for leukemia in 1990.

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