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Checkpoint Inhibitor Work Wins Pair Nobel

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center's James Allison and Kyoto University's Tasuku Honjo for their work contributing to the development of checkpoint inhibitor therapies for cancer.

"Checkpoint therapy has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed," the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet says in a statement.

In the 1990s, Allison identified CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T cells, the Assembly adds. Allison found that blocking CTLA-4 could let loose the immune system to attack cancer cells. At the same time, Honjo uncovered a different inhibitory T cell receptor, PD-1, that acts through a different mechanism.

This has led to the development of new cancer drugs, Agence France Presse reports, despite, New Scientist adds, Honjo's initial difficulty in catching the interest of pharmaceutical companies. These drugs include ipilimumab — the first checkpoint inhibitor approved by the US Food and Drug Administration — as well as nivolumab and pembrolizumab, it notes.

"It's like your body uses your own army to fight cancer," Imperial College London's Nadia Guerra tells the Associated Press.

In a statement, Allison says he is "honored and humbled" to receive the prize, and at a press conference, Honjo added that hearing how his work has helped people has made him happy, according to the AP.