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Cancer briefings

Conquest - Spring 2014

MD Anderson immunotherapy pioneer’s list of awards keeps growing

by Scott Merville

A Canadian institution that annually recognizes seminal medical discoveries selected James Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology, for one of its 2014 Canada Gairdner International Awards.

James Allison, Ph.D.

The honor, announced in March by the Gairdner Foundation, lauds cancer immunotherapy leader Allison’s research in T cell biology that led to his discovery of a unique treatment that frees the immune system to attack cancer.

“Allison’s concept has opened a new field of cancer therapy, immune checkpoint blockade, and many cancer patients are alive today because of his vision,” the foundation noted in its announcement.

Allison discovered that a molecule on T cells turns off an immune attack on cancer before those white blood cells, primed to kill the tumor, can complete their work. He created an antibody to shut down this switch and prolong immune response, which became ipilimumab, known as Yervoy®, the first drug to increase survival of people with late-stage melanoma.

Allison and seven other honorees will receive their awards and 100,000 Canadian dollars to support their research. The awards were created in 1959 to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work significantly improves the quality of human life.

Last year, Allison received a Breakthrough Prize for Biosciences from the Breakthrough Foundation and The Economist’s 2013 Innovations Award for Bioscience. The journal Science named cancer immunotherapy its 2013 Breakthrough of the Year. In February, he was named winner of the 2014 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research from the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center