While the concept of tweaking the immune system to better fight cancer was first demonstrated more than a century ago, it wasn't until Allison's and Honjo's work in the 1990s that promising routes toward immunotherapies emerged.
Honjo, professor at Kyoto University since 1984, separately discovered a second protein called PD-1 and found that it too acted as an immune system brake, but with a different mechanism. Subsequent research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets, most prominently PD-1 and PD-L1, with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colorectal, and head and neck cancers and Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Allison and Honjo discovered two different "brake" proteins that act slightly differently. "The discovery made by the two Medicine Laureates takes advantage of the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells", the Nobel committee said on Twitter. "I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells [that] travel our bodies and work to protect us". The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday and the economics laureate will be announced next Monday. In 1996, Allison's team showed that antibodies against CTLA-4 not only got rid of cancer, but prevented new tumors from forming in mice. "His research has led to life-saving treatments for people who otherwise would have little hope".
Allison, 70, conducted basic research on how the immune system - in particular, a cell called a T cell - fights infection.
After his bachelor's in microbiology and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Texas, Allison went to Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation near San Diego, for his postdoctoral fellowship.
The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".
Passenger plane crash landed into the ocean
Minutes after the plane crashed into the Pacific lagoon, local people and mini boats quickly showed up to rescue the passengers. Bill Jaynes, managing editor of a Micronesia-based newspaper, was on the plane when it hit the water.
Allison said in a statement early Monday, "I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".
"I think this is just the tip of the iceberg - many more medicines like this are on the horizon", he said.
The therapy "has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the statement added. "Doing basic science can have major results in human health care", he says. The therapy is created to remove this protein "brake" and allow the immune system to more quickly get to work fighting the cancer. The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year.
Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes to be handed out each year.
Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow.