ASCO honors Allison for achievements in cancer immunotherapy

MD Anderson News Release 05/29/2015

The world’s leading organization of oncologists will honor Jim Allison, Ph.D., for his pioneering research that led to a new way to treat cancer by unleashing an immune system attack rather than targeting tumors directly.

Allison, chair of Immunology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will receive the Science of Oncology Award at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago on May 31.  

In its announcement of the award, ASCO noted Allison’s “research on T-cell response mechanisms and cancer’s evasion of attack by the immune system led to the clinical development of ipilimumab to block CTLA-4 and its approval as a melanoma treatment.”

Ipilimumab, known commercially as Yervoy, thwarts CTLA-4, a protein receptor on T cells that acts as a brake on immune response.  Long-term follow-up of patients with late-stage melanoma showed that 22 percent of those treated with Yervoy survived at least four years, unprecedented results for the disease. Importantly, those who survived three years have gone on to live up to 10 years and beyond.

Other immune checkpoints have been identified and targeted, and checkpoint blockade has become one of the most promising areas of cancer treatment. Because the approach treats the immune system rather than tumors directly, it is spreading through clinical trials to treat other cancer types.

“I’m grateful for this recognition from ASCO and optimistic that immune checkpoint blockade, in rational combination with other therapies, may prove to be curative for many patients across different types of cancer,” Allison said.

His award lecture, to be delivered at 1:05 p.m. Sunday during the meeting’s plenary session, is titled: Immune Checkpoint Blockade in Cancer Therapy:  New Insights, Opportunities, and Prospects for a Cure.

Allison’s research focuses on developing new drugs that block other checkpoints or that stimulate immune response. A key effort is identifying the best combinations of immunotherapy and other treatment types to increase response rates and lengthen patient survival.

He founded and directs MD Anderson’s immunotherapy platform to cultivate and test immunology-based drugs and combinations. The platform serves MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, which is designed to accelerate the conversion of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths.

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. He also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Allison launched his research in T cell biology during his first stay at MD Anderson, making seminal findings in the early 1980s before moving to the University of California, where his research led to the development of ipilimumab. He moved to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York before returning to MD Anderson in 2012.

Founded in 1964, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the world's leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With more than 35,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs and peer-reviewed journals.