Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

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Trying everything they could in mice to tweak the immune system, Krummel and Allison soon found that a protein receptor called CTLA-4 seemed to be holding T cells back, like a brake in a auto. His discoveries led to a fundamentally new strategy for treating malignancies that unleashes the immune system to kill cancer cells.

Honjo, a Japanese immunologist, discovered a protein on immune cells that also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.

The pair were honoured "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation", the Nobel Assembly said. Dr. Allison's work has led to new and effective cancer therapies that free the immune system to attack tumors, a breakthrough called immune checkpoint blockade.

"We are thrilled to see Jim's work recognized by the Nobel Committee", said Russell Vance, the current director of the Cancer Research Laboratory and a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology.

The prize for physiology or medicine is first Nobel Prize awarded each year. "One challenge is that the clinical success has outrun our scientific knowledge of how these drugs work and how they might best be combined with other therapies to improve treatment and reduce unwanted side effects". Their work has been crucial to developing new and extremely effective treatments.

Meanwhile, Honjo, who is now a professor at Kyoto University in Japan, discovered a similar immune system-braking protein.

Antibodies against PD-1 have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug for the treatment of cancer.

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"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", he said in a statement on his university's website.

In a statement to reporters after learning of his award, Allison said he was "honored and humbled". But he made a switch that changed his life and helped show the value of rallying the immune system to fight cancer. "A comment like that makes me happier than any prize", he said.

The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer". He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment. "Doing basic science can have major results in human health care", he says.

Last year's prize went to American scientists Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for their research identifying genes and proteins that work with the body's internal biological clock, thereby influencing functions such as sleeping patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

Monday's announcement represents only the latest instance in which a current or former Scripps Research scientist has been awarded the Nobel Prize.

The literature prize will not be given this year because of a sexual misconduct scandal at the body that decides the award.

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