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US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

Le Japonais Tasuku Honjo et l'Américain James P. Allison, sur un montage créé le 1er octobre 2018
Sam YEH (AFP)

Two immunologists, James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research that has revolutionized the treatment of cancer, the jury said on Monday.

The pair were honored "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation," the Nobel Assembly said.

Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy targets proteins made by some immune system cells, as well as some cancer cells.

The proteins can stop the body's natural defenses from killing cancer cells. The therapy is designed to remove this protein "brake" and allow the immune system to more quickly get to work fighting the cancer.

Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, in 2014 won the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research.

The duo will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euros).

"I want to continue my research ... so that this immune therapy will save more cancer patients than ever," Tasuku Honjo told reporters at Kyoto University where he is based.

He described his feelings of "immense joy" when people told him they had recovered from severe illnesses due to his work.

Berit Roald (Scanpix Norway/AFP/File)

Honjo said he heard the news of his award while he was discussing academic papers with colleagues and it came "completely out of the blue."

During the press conference, Honjo took a call from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who congratulated the scientist, saying he was "so proud as a fellow Japanese."

Abe said someone he knew was saved by treatment resulting from the professor's research.

"The professor's achievement has given rays of hope to many cancer patients," said Abe.

The due will receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

Last year, US geneticists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the medicine prize for their research on the role of genes in setting the "circadian clock" which regulates sleep and eating patterns, hormones and body temperature.

The winners of this year's physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday. The peace prize will be announced on Friday, and the economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8.

For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.

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