American Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. In a landmark paper published in Science in 1996, Allison, Leach and Krummel showed not only that antibodies against CTLA-4 released the brake and allowed the immune system to attack the tumors, but that the technique was effective enough to result in long-term disappearance of the tumors.
Many of Allison's patients are alive and cancer free because of his approach. "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", he said.
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. 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.
Allison has been recognised for his breakthrough research in cancer immunology with numerous awards.
While Allison was working on CTLA-4, Honjo and his colleagues were studying another T-cell protein called PD-1, or programed death-1, which they identified in 1992. In particular, drugs targeting PD-1 blockade have proved a big commercial hit, offering new options for patients with melanoma, lung and bladder cancers. From 1977-1984 he was a faculty member at University of Texas System Cancer Center, Smithville, Texas; from 1985-2004 at University of California, Berkeley and from 2004-2012 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".More news: US Navy Sailors Assist After Plane Crashes Into Lagoon
Professor Allison works at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.
Dr Allison, 70, said he was "honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition".
"I was doing basic science to do basic science, but you know, I had the good opportunity to see it develop into something that actually does people good", Allison has said.
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important". "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the Nobel committee stated. "We need more basic science research to do that".
Monday's announcement represents only the latest instance in which a current or former Scripps Research scientist has been awarded the Nobel Prize. The academy hopes to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 literature prize next year.
The literature prize will not be given this year because of a sexual misconduct scandal at the body that decides the award.