The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) awarded researcher Jim Allison, PhD, with the Science of Oncology Award for his scientific achievements that led to the discovery of novel cancer therapies. Allison, who currently serves as chair of Immunology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was officially honored during the ASCO 2015 Annual Meeting, last Sunday in Chicago.
Allison has pioneered research that helped understand the benefits of unleashing an immune attack towards cancer cells instead of targeting the tumor directly with therapeutic agents. While attributing the award, ASCO emphasized that Allison’s “research on T-cell response mechanisms and cancer’s evasion of attack by the immune system led to the clinical development of ipilimumab to block CTLA-4 and its approval as a melanoma treatment.”
Ipilimumab, which is commercialized under the brand name Yervoy, was developed to contradict the action of a protein receptor on T cells, CTLA-4, responsible for stopping an efficient immune response. Studies conducted to examine the follow-up use of ipilimumab in patients who suffer from late-stage melanoma, revealed that 22% of them survived at least four years, while patients who survived three years were able to live up to 10 more years, accounting for significant improvements in survival rates associated to this disease.
The researcher has also focused his studies on other immune checkpoints, exploring the potential of checkpoint blockade, a field with promising research outcomes in the treatment of cancer. In addition to melanoma, this type of immunotherapy may also be extended to treat other types of cancer, as the approach focuses on the immune system instead of the tumor itself.
“I’m grateful for this recognition from ASCO and optimistic that immune checkpoint blockade, in rational combination with other therapies, may prove to be curative for many patients across different types of cancer,” said Allison, who presented a lecture at the meeting entitled “Immune Checkpoint Blockade in Cancer Therapy: New Insights, Opportunities, and Prospects for a Cure.”
Allison, who founded and is currently the director of the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s immunotherapy platform, is determined to continue the development of novel drug therapies with the capacity to block checkpoints and stimulate immune responses. One of the main purposes is to understand the best immunotherapeutic combinations along with other therapies that are able to enhance patient’s immune responses and survival rates.
The investigator initiated his research in T cell biology during the 1980s when he first arrived at MD Anderson. He now serves as deputy director of the David H Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at MD Anderson, holds the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.