Who is Jim Allison?

Jim Allison (Photo: MD Anderson)
Jim Allison (Photo: MD Anderson) (MD Anderson)

HOUSTON – Jim Allison, Ph.D. at MD Anderson, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Here's more about Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, according to MDAnderson.org:

"He holds the Vivian Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology and is deputy director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research in Genitourinary Cancers, Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. He is a director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Allison’s research focuses on the mechanisms that govern T cell responses and applying that basic understanding to overcome cancer’s evasion of attack by the immune system. His fundamental discoveries led him to pioneer immune checkpoint blockade as a cancer treatment, working with pharmaceutical companies to develop Yervoy.

Allison explores combinations of immunological therapies and targeted drugs in preclinical studies to more effectively treat a variety of cancers. He continues basic research on immune stimulatory and inhibiting molecules.

The immunotherapy platform is part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, an ambitious effort to more rapidly reduce cancer deaths and suffering by developing advances in prevention, early detection and treatment based on scientific discoveries."

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Below is a timeline of Allison's accomplishments, from the MD Anderson website:

"Science career begins – 1977

Completes a postdoctoral fellowship in Molecular Immunology at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, Calif.

Takes first faculty position as assistant professor of Biochemistry at MD Anderson’s Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis and Epigenetics at the Science Park – Research Division in Smithville, Texas.

T cells and the ignition switch – 1977-84

At MD Anderson in Smithville, develops a research interest in T cells, the recently discovered soldiers of the adaptive immune system.

First major finding: In 1982 identifies the protein structure of the T cell receptor, the previously mysterious ignition switch for immune response, with papers in the Journal of Immunology and Cell.

Antigen-presenting cells of the immune system plug antigens – pieces of viruses, bacteria, abnormal cells – into the T cell receptor to start an immune response.

Finding the gas pedals and blocking the brakes – 1985-2004

Professor, Division of Immunology, University of California, Berkeley.

In a 1992 paper in Nature, identifies the immune system gas pedal, CD28, a protein on T cells that must be turned on to stimulate an immune response when an antigen is presented to the T cell receptor.

Shows that the protein CTLA-4 acts as a brake on T cells, halting immune response, in a 1995 paper in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Reports in a 1996 Science paper that blocking CTLA-4 with an antibody unleashes an immune response against cancer in experimental models, curing 90 percent of cases. Experiments in a variety of cancers repeat the same results.

Path to the clinic – 1996-2011

“I thought, ‘we need to get this to people as soon as we can,’” Allison recalls.

Begins years of urging biotech and pharmaceutical companies to develop the drug and then works with two companies to move immune checkpoint blockade ahead.

In 1997, he’s named a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Insitute.

Becomes chairman of the Immunology Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 2004.

In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the anti-CTLA-4 antibody ipilimumab, now known as Yervoy, for treatment of late-stage melanoma after the drug becomes the first to extend the survival of these patients.

MD Anderson immunotherapy leader – 2012-present

Returns to MD Anderson in November 2012 to lead Immunology Department and new immunotherapy platform to extend the reach of cancer immunotherapy. MD Anderson invests $40 million in the platform, including a $10 million recruitment grant for Allison from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Immunotherapy platform becomes vital part of MD Anderson’s ambitious Moon Shots Program to accelerate life-saving advances based on scientific discoveries. All moon shots include cancer immunotherapy projects and clinical trials.  The platform works with nearly 100 immunotherapy clinical trials launched at MD Anderson since 2012. Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology and platform scientific director, also is a leader of national immune checkpoint blockade clinical trials for kidney and bladder cancer. Together, Allison and Sharma direct efforts to bring the durable benefits of immunotherapy to more patients.

Named co-leader of a national Dream Team of cancer immunotherapy researchers by Stand Up to Cancer and the Cancer Research Institute.

Wins first AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old-CRI Award in Cancer Immunology given by the American Association of Cancer Research, the world’s pre-eminent organization for cancer scientists.

Receives Breakthrough Prize for the Life Sciences.

The journal Science names cancer immunotherapy its scientific breakthrough of the year for 2013.

Wins the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the nation’s highest honor for clinical research in September 2015.

In 2016, becomes MD Anderson director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), a new $250 million effort by social media billionaire Sean Parker to advance the field. Co-directs with Sharma. Makes MD Anderson one of six elite institutions chosen for PICI.

Is named to Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the National Cancer Institute in its work with Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot.

In 2017 wins the Inaugural Sjoberg Prize from the Sjoberg Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; the Wolf Prize for Medicine awarded in Israel by the Wolf Foundation; the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize and the International Balzan Foundation Prize.

In 2018, wins Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal from the National Academy of Sciences; the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine; the King Faisal Prize for Medicine from the King Faisal Foundation; Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research from Johnson & Johnson; and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research."