It was a rare award for a key cancer breakthrough, in this case the discovery that the immune system can be tweaked to unleash tumor-attacking T cells. From 1974-1977 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, California.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement. Just last week, such a drug was approved for treatment of another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell cancer, he said.
The winners of this year's physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday.
Allison said his research began by studying the immune system and he stumbled upon this idea as a way to treat cancer, the same disease that killed his mother.
For decades researchers had been trying to figure out effective ways to use the body's own immune system against cancer. The therapy was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2011 and approved by the FDA as ipilimumab (trade name Yervoy), which is now used to treat skin cancers that have metastasized or that can not be removed surgically.
"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", he said.More news: Elon Musk’s "Funding Secured" Tweet Just Cost Him & Tesla $40 Million
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Allison's work led to development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug which would become the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma.
The prize for physiology or medicine is first Nobel Prize awarded each year. "Immune checkpoint therapy" has revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the Nobel committee stated.
"When Dana showed me the results, I was really surprised", Allison said. Allison also is deputy director of the David H Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at MD Anderson and holds the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology.
Allison spent the next few years amassing data in mice to show that anti-CTLA-4 antibodies work, and then, in collaboration with a biotech firm called Medarex, developed human antibodies that showed promise in early clinical trials against melanoma and other cancers.
"I was doing basic science to do basic science, but you know, I had the good opportunity to see it develop into something that actually does people good", Allison has said.
Honjo, an avid golf player, said a member of a golf club once walked up to him suddenly, thanking him for the discovery that treated his lung cancer.
Once these brakes were identified, researchers were able to work on how to turn them off and get T-cells - white blood cells - to start attacking.