Celebrating immunotherapy’s ‘Most Influential’ pioneer
From inclusion in Time magazine’s The 100 Most Influential People list, to sole winner of an honor awarded every three years since 1871, appreciation spreads for the life-saving research of MD Anderson’s Immunology Chair Jim Allison, Ph.D.
By finding a way to free the immune system to attack tumors, Allison invented immune checkpoint blockade, opening up an entirely new way to treat cancer.
“We’re pleased to see the impact of Jim’s research accomplishments highlighted alongside those of other great pioneers,” says Marshall Hicks, M.D., president ad interim of MD Anderson. “We’re delighted to have Jim leading our platform efforts, which are crucial to our Moon Shots Program™ and MD Anderson’s ability to advance progress in this exciting field.”
Time placed Allison in the Titans category of its list, alongside Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and NBA superstar LeBron James.
“His discoveries have already saved thousands of lives – and they’re also forever changing what it means to have cancer,” Time medical writer Alice Park notes.
For Allison, it’s all been exciting and humbling.
“I’m grateful for the recognition both personally and for the field of cancer immunotherapy, which is emerging as another pillar of cancer treatment,” he says.
Recent honors include:
- Election in April to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the academy’s new fellows are nominated and elected by existing members who are leaders in the sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences, public affairs and business. Allison will be inducted with other members of his class this fall.
- The inaugural Sjöberg Prize for cancer research from the Sjöberg Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, received in March at the academy’s annual meeting at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute.
- The 2017 Wolf Prize for Medicine, awarded by an Israeli charity in five categories since 1976 and received in June during a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
- The Warren Triennial Prize from Massachusetts General Hospital, in April, awarded every three years since 1871 to recognize “scientists who are seekers of and contributors to new knowledge in the service of medicine.”
- The first Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award in December 2016, 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.
- The 2017 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize from Harvard Medical School, announced in June to be presented in October, honors trailblazing scientists whose work has led to the understanding, prevention, treatment or cure of human disease.
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.
Allison developed an antibody to block CTLA-4, a protein on T cells that shuts down immune response, unleashing the immune system to attack. From that work came 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 10 years or more.
Other immune checkpoint blockade drugs have followed and are used in a variety of cancers, including lung, bladder, kidney, and head and neck cancers, and Hodgkin lymphoma and melanoma.
More of Allison’s recent accolades include 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. He’s a member of the National Academies of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.