James Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel Prize in Medicine for cancer research

American James Allison and Japan’s Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for a pioneering approach to cancer treatment.

The Nobel committee said the pair’s research — which harnesses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells — amounted to a “landmark in our fight against cancer.” Their approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had “revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed,” the committee said.

Allison, a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. Releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors, he found. The discovery led to effective treatments.

Honjo, who has worked as a professor at Kyoto University in Japan for the past 34 years, discovered a protein on immune cells and illustrated how that too can operate as a break, though with a different action. Therapies based on his method have also proved effective in fighting cancer.

“Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges,” the Nobel committee said on Twitter.

“By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year’s #NobelPrize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”