The two scientists will share the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.01 million) that comes with the prize.
Allison, 70, conducted basic research on how the immune system - in particular, a cell called a T cell - fights infection. "And I thought, 'If we could do that in people, this is going to be incredible'".
The list of other possible awardees included a number of American researchers including Arlene Sharpe and Gordon Freeman at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Jedd Wolchok at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania, who pioneered another approach to immunotherapy. Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica.
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. He now works at Houston's M.D.
The therapy "has now revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the statement added.
Allison, whose mother died of lymphoma, built on that research over the next 40 years, mostly in California and in Texas, where he is now chair of immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. 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.
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In this video about UC Berkeley's new Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI), Allison discusses his groundbreaking work on cancer immunotherapy. Other scientists worked on using CTLA-4 as a way to treat autoimmune disorders.
Antibodies against one such receptor, PD-1, have given especially impressive results.
Among those to have received such treatment is former USA president Jimmy Carter, who was diagnosed in 2015 with the skin cancer melanoma, which had spread to his brain.
The Nobel Prize is the world's most prestigious annual award for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and promotion of peace.
For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.
A professor at the Unviersity of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was among two people Monday who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.