Last month in Madrid, the BBVA Foundation announced Allison had won its Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine for his research that “stimulated the development of a new class of drugs” against cancer.
In Riyadh, the King Faisal Foundation recently awarded Allison the King Faisal Prize 2018 for Medicine “for his vast contributions to humanity and medicine through his research” in immunotherapy for cancer.
The two honors, to be handed out at ceremonies later this year, are the latest fêting Allison for his basic research on the immune system and invention of immune checkpoint blockade as cancer treatment. Unlike other therapies that target tumors directly, this approach treats the immune system, freeing it to attack cancer.
“Dr. Allison’s research insights and his drive to see them translated into a new therapeutic approach for patients inform our immunotherapy efforts. We are proud to have him as a leader and colleague at MD Anderson,” says MD Anderson President Peter WT Pisters, M.D.
Allison showed that blocking CTLA-4, a molecule on T cells that acts as a brake on those targeted warriors of the immune system, freed them to attack cancer. The drug developed from his research, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to ever extend the lives of people with advanced melanoma.
Since then, drugs that target other immune checkpoint targets have been approved for patients with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung, kidney, liver, bladder, colorectal and head and neck cancers. Checkpoint blockade helps a significant fraction of these patients, with some enjoying long-term complete responses, but many don’t benefit from this therapy.
“I think that in the future immunotherapy will be a part of all cancer treatments, in combination with chemotherapy or radiation,” Allison told the BBVA officials. “I am optimistic that we will learn the right things to put together to cure a majority of patients, maybe even reaching 60 or 90 percent of cases in some kinds of cancers.”
Allison’s research focuses on the basic science of the immune system, and on efficient ways to combine checkpoint blockade with other therapies to extend the impact of immunotherapy for cancer patients.
He is executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform for MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, a focused effort to more rapidly develop ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer, based on scientific discoveries. Allison also is co-director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson with Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology.
The King Faisal Prize was established in 1977 by the King Faisal Foundation, founded in 1976 by the sons and daughters of the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz as a tribute to their father. The medicine prize has been awarded since 1981.
Foundations and scholarly societies in China, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Taiwan, Israel, and Italy also have noted Allison’s accomplishments. In the United States, among his honors are the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the 2013 Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology, AACR-Cancer Research Institute and, most recently the 2018 Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal for outstanding research in medical sciences from the National Academy of Sciences.