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Accolades for cancer immunotherapy and its mastermind

Work pioneered by MD Anderson’s Allison honored as breakthrough of the year

By Scott Merville

 Jim Allison, Ph.D.

Detect. Destroy. Remember. The mantra of the immune system applies to cancer in meaningful ways.  

The journal Science has named cancer immunotherapy its 2013 Breakthrough of the Year, recognizing the rising tide of treatments pioneered by MD Anderson’s Jim Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology and executive director of the Moon Shots Program immunotherapy platform.

“Immunotherapy marks an entirely different way of treating cancer — by targeting the immune system, not the tumor itself. Oncologists, a grounded-in-reality bunch, say a corner has been turned and we won’t be going back,” Science notes.

Allison was the first to turn that corner by revealing how tumors sideline the immune system. His discovery of a T cell checkpoint blockade led to a new class of medicine that activates an immune response against cancer, extending survival for patients with late stage-melanoma and even curing the disesase in some cases.

“Science’s choice of immunotherapy recognizes what this field is accomplishing right now and the prospect of deeper and broader application against many types of cancer to come,” says Allison. “MD Anderson is a center of immunotherapy excellence that will grow, improve and significantly contribute to development of more effective drugs for cancer patients.”

Honoring the mastermind behind it all

Photo by F. Carter SmithIn February, the National Foundation for Cancer Research awarded Allison the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research. In December 2013, he received two additional prestigious awards: the Economist’s 2013 Innovation Award for Bioscience and a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, which recognizes researchers whose work extends human life.

In April 2013, Allison received the inaugural AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology, presented by the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Economist is a 170-year-old weekly news publication based in London with a circulation of 4.5 million worldwide. Its Innovation Awards recognize significant contributions in eight categories: bioscience, computing and telecommunications, consumer products, energy and environment, process and services, social and economic, no boundaries and corporate.

Sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and Life Sciences include Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Yuri and Julia Milner, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. Breakthrough Prizes are funded by a grant from The Brin Wojcicki Foundation; a grant from Zuckerberg’s fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; a grant from Jack Ma Foundation; and a grant from Milner Foundation.

The Science Channel aired the star-studded Breakthrough Prize ceremony at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, with host Kevin Spacey and celebrity presenters including Conan O'Brien, Glenn Close, Rob Lowe and Michael C. Hall.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center