PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) congratulates Fellow of the AACR Academy and former member of the AACR Board of Directors James P. Allison, PhD, and his distinguished colleague from Japan, Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, on receiving the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.
“On behalf of the American Association for Cancer Research, I wish to congratulate Drs. Allison and Honjo on their recognition by the Nobel Prize Committee with this most prestigious award for outstanding medical research,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Their dedicated efforts established the paradigm of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are transforming the lives of many patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. They are truly deserving of this esteemed accolade.”
The recognition of Allison increases the number of AACR members to have been awarded a Nobel Prize to 65, 40 of whom are still living today.
Allison, professor and chair of the Department of Immunology in the division of basic science research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Honjo, Deputy Director-General and Distinguished Professor of Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study in Japan, are being recognized by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute for establishing an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.
Allison’s early research focused on understanding how the immune system defends the body from pathogens and cancers, with an emphasis on the role of immune cells called T cells. As part of this work, he discovered the protein CTLA-4 and showed that it functions to put a brake on T-cell responses. He went on to develop an antibody that blocks CTLA-4 and found that it caused rejection of established tumors in several mouse models of cancer. He then developed an antibody to human CTLA-4, which was later called ipilimumab (Yervoy) and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of metastatic melanoma in 2011. Ipilimumab was the first therapeutic that improved survival for patients with this deadly disease.
Allison has been previously recognized with numerous other awards and honors including the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the 2015 Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Cancer Research, the 2014 AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award, and the 2013 AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award.
Honjo’s research identified the protein PD-1 on immune cells and, after rigorous investigation, showed that it also operates as a brake on T cells, but that it functions in a different way to CTLA-4. Six antibodies that target PD-1 or PD-L1, one of the proteins that trigger the brake function of PD-1, have been developed and approved by the FDA for the treatment of several types of cancer.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute for discoveries of major importance in life science or medicine that have changed the scientific paradigm and are of great benefit for mankind. Each laureate receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money that is decided by the Nobel Foundation.
The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony will be on December 10, 2018, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Video: Learn more about Dr. Allison's work and career: