Who is Nobel Medicine Prize victor James P Allison?

Lynn Cook
October 1, 2018

Unlike more traditional forms of cancer treatment that directly target cancer cells, Allison and Honjo figured out how to help the patient's own immune system tackle the cancer more quickly.

Releasing the potential of immune cells to attack cancers joins other treatments including surgery, radiation and drugs.

Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug and developed for the treatment of cancer. Called PD-1, this protein, he found, functions as a T-cell brake but via a different mechanism than CTLA-4 uses.

"Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer", it said. Allison won for his work in launching an effective new way to attack cancer by treating the immune system rather than the tumor, according to a release. 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. Honojo's lab discovered when they injected antibodies against PD-1 that cancer cells could no longer dupe the T-cells.

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Allison said his research began by studying the immune system and he stumbled upon this idea as a way to treat cancer, the same disease that killed his mother.

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. "It represents a paradigmatic shift and a landmark in the fight against cancer".

In fact, Allison was instrumental in creating the research environment of the current Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley as well as the department's division of immunology, in which he served stints as chair and division head during his time at Berkeley, said David Raulet, director of Berkeley's Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI).

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison says in a statement. "I thought this was pretty cool". He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment. "Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the Nobel jury said. "We need more basic science research to do that".

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Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow.

Meanwhile, the fact that the literature prize will not be handed over this year has grabbed several headlines. No literature prize is being given this year.

Commenting on Monday's award, Dan Davis, an immunologist at Britain's University of Manchester, said "this game-changing cancer therapy" has "sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses".

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