American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

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An American and a Japanese scientist have won the 2018 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for discovery of a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment.

The duo will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros).

Allison "realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors", the Karolinska Institute said on Monday.

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.

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According to his website, Honjo discovered a key protein - Programmed Cell Death Protein 1 - in controlling whether cells live or die, a central process in determining whether cells become cancerous and grow into tumors or behave normally. But he made a switch that changed his life and helped show the value of rallying the immune system to fight cancer.

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

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".

Charles Swanton, chief clinician at the charity Cancer Research UK, said the scientists' work had revolutionised cancer and immunotherapy.

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"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told The Associated Press.

The recipients include K. Barry Sharpless, who won he Nobel in chemistry in 2001 for his insights on antibodies, and Bruce Beutler, who won the prize in physiology and medicine in 2011 for his work in immunology.

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.

The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week.

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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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