James Allison, whose early work at Scripps Research in La Jolla set him on a path to using the immune system to successfully fight cancer, reached the pinnacle of science Monday when he was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
The award-winning discovery led to treatments targeting proteins made by some immune system cells that act as a "brake" on the body's natural defences killing cancer cells.
Allison's work explored how a protein can function as a brake on the immune system, and how the immune cells can combat tumors if the brake is released.
According to the Nobel Assembly, he realised the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients.
Allison and Honjo discovered two different "brake" proteins that act slightly differently.
"Allison's and Honjo's discoveries have added a new pillar in cancer therapy. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed".
He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy.
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".
"However, advanced cancer remains immensely hard to treat, and novel therapeutic strategies are desperately needed", the Nobel Assembly said.
They will receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on Dec 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.
No literature prize is being given this year.
The physics prize is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday.