Allison studied a known protein and developed the concept into a new treatment approach, while Honjo discovered a new protein that also operated as a brake on immune cells.
“I’m honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition,” Allison said in a statement released by the university’s MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he is a professor.
“A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. 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.
Allison takes care in his statement to give credit to “a succession of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at MD Anderson, the University of California, Berkeley, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center” who joined in the research.
Allison’s and Honjo’s prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.
“In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective,” Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told The Associated Press. “The number of different types of cancers for which this approach to immunotherapy is being found to be effective in at least some patients continues to grow.”
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.
Berg said that former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer, which had spread to his brain, was treated with one of the drugs developed from Honjo’s work.