March 15, 2017
Immunotherapy pioneer Jim Allison honored with Sjöberg, Wolf and Fudan-Zhongzhi awards
BY Scott Merville
International recognition continues to accumulate for Jim Allison, Ph.D., for opening up an entirely new way to treat cancer by freeing the immune system to attack the disease.
Allison, MD Anderson’s chair of Immunology, will receive the inaugural Sjöberg Prize from the Sjöberg Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on March 31 at the academy’s annual meeting in Stockholm. The foundation was launched last year by the late Swedish businessman Bengt Sjöberg. Allison and co-winner Tony Hunter, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, also will speak on March 30 at the Karolinska Institute.
The honor is the third major prize Allison has received in recent months.
“We are delighted that we can encourage future cancer research by awarding this prize to two such outstanding researchers. Their discoveries have led to improved cancer treatment for thousands of people and we are proud to be awarding them the first Sjöberg Prize,” says Ingemar Sjöberg, the donor’s brother and chairman of the Sjöberg Foundation. “Their high-quality research represents the Sjöberg Foundation’s idea and purpose of inspiring and aiding new efforts in the work to fight cancer.”
Allison and Hunter, whose research led to the development of a new class of targeted therapies, will share a $1 million prize — $100,000 as a personal award and $900,000 for future research.
“It’s an honor to receive the first Sjöberg Prize, which I think also acknowledges all of those who worked to translate fundamental knowledge of the immune system into life-saving treatment for many cancer patients,” Allison says.
Wolf Prize for Medicine
Allison also will receive the 2017 Wolf Prize for Medicine in June during a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Since 1976, the Wolf Foundation, an Israeli nonprofit, has honored international leaders in the arts and sciences, including eight laureates this year in chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and the arts. Allison is the sole winner for medicine. Laureates in each category share a $100,000 prize.
Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award
Allison also received the first-ever Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award in 2016, which was established by Fudan University in Shanghai and Zhongzhi Enterprise Group to recognize the global impact of scientists who have made fundamental and distinguished achievements in the fields of mathematics, physics and biomedicine.
Allison and Japanese scientist Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University, also an immunology researcher, shared the award for biomedicine and a prize of $435,000. They were honored at a ceremony in Shanghai in December.
These awards acknowledge Allison’s pioneering research in the basic biology of T cells, white blood cells that serve as the immune system’s highly targeted weapons against invading infections and abnormal cells, and his subsequent work to translate discoveries into treatment.
He discovered the role of CTLA-4, a protein on T cells that shuts down immune response, and developed an antibody to block CTLA-4, unleashing the immune system to attack. He helped develop ipilimumab (Yervoy), the first immune checkpoint blockade drug. Yervoy became the first drug to extend survival of patients with metastatic melanoma, with about 20% of patients surviving for 10 years or more.
Other immune checkpoint blockade drugs have followed and are used in a variety of cancers, including lung, bladder, kidney, head and neck cancers, Hodgkin lymphoma and melanoma.
Allison is executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, which is designed to accelerate development of life-saving innovations from scientific discoveries. Allison and platform colleagues conduct immune monitoring of biopsies before, during and after treatment to better understand who will respond to immune checkpoint blockade.
He also continues research to identify new molecules that block or stimulate immune response, and understand their function.
Allison has won a number of honors in recent years, including the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and the 2013 AACR-Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology.
These awards acknowledge Jim Allison’s pioneering research in the basic biology of T cells, white blood cells that serve as the immune system’s highly targeted weapons against invading infections and abnormal cells, and his subsequent work to translate discoveries into treatment.