Two scientists share 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

That's because our immune systems typically fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, and mostly ignore the cells created within our bodies - which include cancer cells. In particular, drugs targeting PD-1 blockade have proved a big commercial hit, offering new options for patients with melanoma, lung and bladder cancers. Removing these proteins from the equation allows immune cells called T-cells to attack the cancer.

Wolchok said "an untold number of lives ... have been saved by the science that they pioneered".

From AFL player Jarryd Roughead to businessman Ron Walker, to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, anecdotes abound for the activity of immune checkpoint inhibitors in advanced cancers such as melanoma, lung, kidney and bladder and others.

Honjo has said that since his college days the six C's of curiosity, courage, challenge, confidence, concentration and continuation were his driving force in research that led to the development of drugs that opened up new cancer treatments. Surgeon William Coley had developed an approach to treating cancer that involved injecting patients with a mixture of heat-killed bacteria in the hopes of stimulating the body's "resisting powers". The discovery led to effective treatments.

Allison's work, much of it done at the University of California-Berkley, changed that by proving the immune system could identify tumor cells and act against them. In other words, this cancer therapy relies somewhat on serendipity.

"In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action".

Also attending the news conference was his 75-year-old wife, Shigeko, who said, "I have taken upon myself the job of supporting my husband, so I am very happy that he received the Nobel Prize".

"He told me, 'Thanks to you I can play golf again, '" he recalled.

"It still hasn't completely dawned on me", he said.

Allison said scientists need to better understand "how these drugs work and how they might best be combined with other therapies to improve treatment and reduce unwanted side effects".

Follow-up studies have since shown that 20% of patients survive at least 3 years posttreatment, with many living for 10 years and beyond.

Then, in 1996, Krummel and Dana Leach, PhD, an Allison lab postdoctoral researcher, published a study in Science showing that cancers engage CTLA-4 to escape immune surveillance, and that blocking CTLA-4 with a specially designed antibody caused dramatic shrinkage of tumors in mice.

"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told the AP.

"Two people are recognized for great work, but enormous numbers of people are working around the edges, both in the lab and in the clinic and it's a success for the whole field", said Urba.

The new treatments represented "a landmark in our fight against cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said in announcing the winners.

The physics prize is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry. And the Nobel Peace Prize will be named on Friday.

The Swedish Academy canceled this year's literature prize as a result of the crisis.