The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly on Monday to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their “discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”, the Nobel committee announced on Monday.

Allison, an American immunologist, conducted a study on a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realised the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours, the official Twitter page of the Nobel Prize said. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients.

Honjo, a Japanese immunologist, discovered a protein on immune cells that also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. “Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer,” the prize committee said of his discovery.

“By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumour cells, this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy,” it added.

This is the first Nobel prize to be announced this year. The physics prize will be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry. The Nobel Prize in Literature was cancelled this year following allegations of sexual misconduct and leaks of names of some winners. The institution said it will announce two winners in 2019.

Last year’s prize

The 2017 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three American researchers Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young for their “discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”. Using fruit flies as a model organism, the researchers isolated a gene that controls the daily biological rhythm. The winners raised “awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene”.