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.
Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo, who jointly won the Nobel Medicine Prize with James P Allison of the United States, is credited for his discovery of a protein that contributed to the development of an immunotherapeutic drug, opening a pathway for an altogether new way of treating cancer.
Allison "realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors", the Nobel jury said during Monday's prize announcement in Stockholm.
"A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us", he added.
Allison - who received his bachelor's degree in 1969 and his doctorate in 1973 at UT Austin - shares the award with Tasuku Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University.
"The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said as it awarded the prize of nine million Swedish crowns ($1 million).
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Unlike more traditional forms of cancer treatment that directly target cancer cells, Allison and Honjo figured out how to help the patient's own immune system tackle the cancer more quickly. Releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors, he found. In a key mouse experiment around Christmas 1994, Allison found that when mice with cancer were treated with CTLA-4-blocking antibodies, they were cured. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living for 10 years and beyond, unprecedented results.
Allison also said he was "honored and humbled" by the award.
Among those to have received such treatment is former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who was diagnosed in 2015 with the skin cancer melanoma, which had spread to his brain.
He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy.
"A succession of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at MD Anderson, the University of California, Berkeley, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center played important roles in this research".