“This award is special to me because it’s named for Paul Ehrlich, the German scientist who was first to suggest immune system surveillance of cancer more than 100 years ago,” says Allison.
Allison pioneered the immune checkpoint blockade to treat cancer by blocking molecules that act as a brake on T cells, the immune system’s customized attack cells. The resulting drug ipilimumab has extinguished previously untreatable late-stage melanoma in an unprecedented 22% of patients for at least 10 years.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for metastatic melanoma in 2011. Since then, ipilimumab and new drugs that impede other checkpoints have been applied to lung, bladder and kidney cancers.
Allison shares the prize with Carl June, M.D., University of Pennsylvania, who pioneered an approach that customizes T cells to attack leukemia.