The prize recognizes Allison's basic science discoveries on the biology of T cells, the adaptive immune system's soldiers, and his invention of immune checkpoint blockade to treat cancer.
Working separately, Professor Honjo discovered another protein, called PD-1, that also hampered T cells' ability to attack cancer, but in a somewhat different way. Surgeon William Coley had developed an approach to treating cancer that involved injecting patients with a mixture of heat-killed bacteria in the hopes of stimulating the body's "resisting powers".
Honjo, of Kyoto University, discovered a new protein, the ligand PD-1, which also acted as a brake on immune cells.
One of Carter's treatments was a drug that blocked the immune-cell "brake" studied by Honjo. The skin cancer disappeared in several cases. They have shown remarkable success against cancers such metastatic melanoma, bladder and lung cancers, sparking a revolution in treatment and a billion dollar market for the drugs. Rather than targeting the activation of the immune system or the tumour cell itself, both focused on removing inhibitors of the immune response - a potential reason why this treatment has succeeded where so many others have failed. Many checkpoint therapy trials are now underway against most types of cancer, and new checkpoint proteins are being tested as targets.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement released by M.D. Anderson.
Allison, the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform, is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the Nobel for discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.
READ | Who is Nobel Medicine Prize victor James P Allison?
We now know that the current crop of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs will help a minority of patients across many cancers, but still fail the majority. And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma. James P. Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas in this picture obtained from MD Anderson Cancer Center (R) and Kyoto University Professor Tasuku Honjo in Kyoto, in this photo taken by Kyodo.