James Allison, Ph.D. an MD Anderson Researcher working in cancer research and internationally recognized for his contribution in the development of a novel class of cancer immunotherapies, has been recently designated a recipient of the 2015 Pezcoller Foundation-American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) International Award for Cancer Research. The award was presented during the 2015 AACR Annual Meeting that took place last week in Philadelphia.
Dr. Allison is being acknowledged for his innovative and groundbreaking discovery that blocking cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) signaling results in an improved antitumor immune response. Furthermore, the researcher is being recognized for his role in the development of the CTLA-4 inhibitor ipilimumab (Yervoy). Ipilimumab was the first of a novel class of cancer immunotherapeutics named immune checkpoint inhibitors, approved in 2011 to address the treatment of metastatic melanoma patients by the United States Food and Drug Administration; it was the very first therapy to ameliorate survival rates in individuals suffering with this deadliest form of cancer.
The Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award recognizes international renowned researchers that contribute to major scientific discoveries in cancer research. “This high honor is yet further recognition of the pioneering work undertaken by Dr. Allison. He is, without question, one of the leading cancer researchers in the world today and has made historic contributions to advances in cancer treatment. We are immensely proud of his achievements and congratulate him on being named this year’s Pezcoller Award recipient,” noted Dr. Ronald DePinho, the president of MD Anderson.
Allison and his research team, while working to understand the mechanisms of the T-cell receptor’s activation and its influence, ended up discovering that CTLA-4 is an immune system inhibitory checkpoint molecule expressed by T cells. They developed an antibody against this cell surface receptor and tested it in mice models of cancer, leading to ipilimumab development, which blocks CTLA-4 and allows T-calls to attack cancer cells – a process called “immune checkpoint blockade.”
“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive the Pezcoller Award. This award by the AACR recognizes the efforts of my research team over the years to develop strategies to unleash the immune system to treat cancer, as well as the many other investigators, clinicians, and patients whose efforts and courage made immunotherapy of cancer a reality that is benefiting cancer patients,” Dr. Allison added.