Two immunologists, James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer, the jury said on Monday.
Honjo and Allison will split the Nobel prize amount of 9 million in Swedish krona, or $1.01 million.
The Nobel committee cited Allison's study of a protein called CTLA-4 that functions as a brake on the immune system. Releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors, he found.
Allison has dedicated his career developing strategies for cancer immunotherapy and now works at the MD Anderson cancer center in Houston.
According to his website, Honjo discovered a key protein - Programmed Cell Death Protein 1 - in controlling whether cells live or die, a central process in determining whether cells become cancerous and grow into tumors or behave normally.
Commenting on Monday's award, Dan Davis, an immunologist at Britain's University of Manchester, said "this game-changing cancer therapy" has "sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses".
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.
"For more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer". Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.
"Until the discoveries made by the 2018 Medicine Laureates, progress into clinical development was modest".
"However, advanced cancer remains immensely hard to treat, and novel therapeutic strategies are desperately needed", the Nobel Assembly said.
The Nobel Prize for physics is set to be announced on Tuesday. The economics laureate, which is not technically a Nobel but is given in honor of Alfred Nobel, the prizes' founder, will be announced next Monday.
The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week.
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