James P. Allison, PhD, chair of the department of immunology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has been named to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for 2017.
His inclusion in the Time 100 recognizes his breakthrough research in immune checkpoint blockade therapy for the treatment of advanced cancers.
James P. Allison
“I’m grateful to Time for recognizing the increasing importance of immunotherapy as a new pillar of cancer treatment,” Allison said in a press release. “We’re in the early days of successful cancer immunotherapy. Our next step is to extend these treatments to benefit more patients and our platform is intensely focused on making that a reality.”
Allison serves as executive director of the immunotherapy platform. The platform is part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, designed to analyze blood samples and tumor biopsies taken before, during and after treatment to better understand response and resistance to treatment. He also is executive director of the immunotherapy platform and deputy director of David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at MD Anderson.
“We’re pleased to see the impact of Jim’s research accomplishments highlighted alongside those of other great pioneers and icons,” Marshall Hicks, MD, ad interim president of MD Anderson, said in the release. “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.”
Allison conducted a study in mice in 1990s that demonstrated CTLA-4, a molecule expressed on T cells, blocks the body’s natural immune response. He developed an antibody against CTLA-4 that inhibits tumor growth in mice, and this evolved into ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb), a successful treatment for advanced-stage melanoma in humans.
Other drugs subsequently were developed to block PD-1. The FDA has approved use of these agents for several malignancies, including Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, and kidney, lung, head and neck, and bladder cancers.
“The next challenge is to understand who benefits from treatment, who doesn’t, and develop rational combination therapies to help those who don’t,” Allison said. “There are many possible combinations — with other immunotherapies, targeted therapies, chemotherapies, radiation — and basic science will be important to help us more efficiently sort out these options.”
Allison has received numerous honors, including 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.