Nobel Prize Goes to Researchers Behind New Cancer Immune Therapy

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Nobel Prize Goes to Researchers Behind New Cancer Immune Therapy

The way that cancer immune therapy works.

It wasn’t the Nobel Committee that reached James Allison first on Monday to inform him that he had won the coveted annual prize in Physiology or Medicine. It was his son who broke the news with a 5:30 am phone call. Minutes later, a Swedish reporter reached him before the committee could.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, it happened,’” Allison says to TIME. “I’m just in shock, I guess.”

Allison, chair of immunology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was awarded the Nobel for his discovery in 1994 in mice that led to an entirely new class of anti-cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. They’re designed to unleash the power of the immune system and have saved tens of thousands of lives—including that of President Jimmy Carter, who was treated with an experimental version of this type of drug when he was diagnosed with advanced melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. Dr. Tasuku Honjo, professor of immunology and genomic medicine from Kyoto University in Japan, was also awarded a Nobel in the same category for a his discovery of another checkpoint inhibitor pathway.

Those discoveries led to checkpoint inhibitors, the first class of drugs designed to strip away that protective molecular cloak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first checkpoint inhibitor in 2011.

Read on: Nobel Prize Goes to Researchers Behind New Cancer Immune Therapy

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