James P Allison jointly won the Nobel Prize in medicine with Tasaku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by “inhibition of negative immune regulation.
The scientists’ groundbreaking work on the immune system has paved the way for a new class of cancer drugs that are already dramatically changing outcomes for patients.
CAREER IN THE FIELD OF MEDICINE
Born on 7 August 1948, Allison was inspired by his 8th grade math teacher to pursue a career in science. When he was just 15 years, Allison was accepted into a National Science Foundation-funded summer science-training program at The University of Texas at Austin.
Allison was intrigued by the immune system right from the time when he was an undergraduate. His interest in the immune system was deepened by an experiment he conducted on mice when he was a graduate student. It was then that he decided to dedicate his life’s work to understand how it worked.
He has a longstanding interest in mechanisms of T cell development and activation, and the development of novel strategies for tumor immuno-therapy.
In 1996, Allison was the first to show that antibody blockade of a T-cell inhibitory molecule could lead to enhanced anti-tumor immune responses and tumor rejection. This concept of blocking T-cell inhibitory pathways as a way of unleashing anti-tumor immune responses and eliciting clinical benefit laid the foundation for the development of other drugs that target T-cell inhibitory pathways, which have been labelled as “immune checkpoint therapies”
Allison has been recognised for his breakthrough research in cancer immunology with numerous awards. In 2013, Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its Breakthrough of the Year, citing Allison’s work as crucial to immunotherapy’s rapid advancement, and The Economist honoured him with its Innovations Award in Bioscience.
Earlier this year, Allison received the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine, the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research