Their discovery led to a "landmark in our fight against cancer", according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute.
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. The therapies based on their research has proved to be more effective in fighting cancer cells. Allison developed this idea into a new type of cancer treatment.
"In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action".
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison said in a statement released by the university's MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he is a professor. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.
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"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". And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma. "Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the Nobel jury said. American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo were awarded the honourable prize by the award-giving body. But he made a switch that changed his life and helped show the value of rallying the immune system to fight cancer.
The recipients include K. Barry Sharpless, who won he Nobel in chemistry in 2001 for his insights on antibodies, and Bruce Beutler, who won the prize in physiology and medicine in 2011 for his work in immunology.
The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week. The victor of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday.