The entire Stand Up to Cancer community is thrilled that the 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology has been awarded to Jim Allison, PhD, leader of the Stand Up To Cancer-Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Cancer Immunology Dream Team. The Prize recognizes Allison’s groundbreaking work in cancer immunology, in which the body’s own immune system is enabled to detect and fight cancer. SU2C and CRI began a collaboration to support his work in 2013.
“Jim Allison is truly a pioneer in cancer immunology,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, chairman of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee and himself a Nobel laureate for his research in genetics. “Stand Up To Cancer has been proud to support his lifesaving work as a leader of a Dream Team of outstanding researchers. We congratulate him on the great tribute of a Nobel Prize.”
Dr. Allison is the first researcher with work supported by SU2C to receive a Nobel Prize.
Added Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, president and CEO of SU2C, “The work done by Dr. Allison and his SU2C-CRI Dream Team colleagues is saving lives right now, which is what Stand Up To Cancer is all about. We are incredibly gratified to support Dr. Allison’s research, which is such a wonderful source of hope for cancer patients.”
Dr. Allison, who is chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, shares the prize with Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan.
Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who is also an SU2C-supported researcher, said that “an untold number of lives have been saved by the science that they pioneered.”
Allison’s work, which took many years to develop, is based on the idea that the immune system has “brakes” that prevent it from recognizing and attacking cancer cells.
Allison and his research team determined that a molecule called CTLA-4 signals the immune system to stop the process of deploying T cells to fight infection, effectively slamming the brakes on the immune system’s fight against cancer.
Many other researchers didn’t agree, but Allison and his team persevered and were able to show that inhibiting CTLA-4 enables the immune system to go after cancer in many cases.
“I had the thought: ‘Well, I wonder if we could make the immune system better at attacking cancer by temporarily disabling the brakes?’ Just basically keep the immune system from turning itself off for an extended period of time until it had time to eliminate tumors,” said Allison. He called this process “checkpoint blockade.”
His lab developed an antibody against CTLA-4, which supported the development of a monoclonal antibody called ipilimumab, the first drug able to improve survival rates for metastatic melanoma patients by unleashing the immune system so it could recognize and attack cancerous cells.
In collaboration with Cancer Research Institute, and with support from the Sean Parker Foundation, a $10 million SU2C-CRI Dream Team on cancer immunology was formed, headed by Allison and Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles, and co-led by Drew M. Pardoll, MD, PhD, of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Cassian Yee, MD, also of MD Anderson. Since then, the Melanoma Research Alliance has also provided $1 million in support, bringing the Dream Team’s total funding to $11 million.
SU2C has invested more than $150 million in cancer immunotherapy research by several teams and individual researchers.
When he is not fighting cancer, Allison enjoys playing the harmonica and joining fellow scientists in a band called The Checkpoints. He says that being invited onstage to play with Willie Nelson was “one of the top five moments in my life.”
He is married to Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at MD Anderson, who is an investigator on the immunology dream team. The Washington Post described them as “the ultimate power couple” in their field.
“Sharma is a formidable researcher and immunologist in her own right . . . a specialist in renal, bladder and prostate cancers,” the Post noted.
With Allison, cancer is personal—his mother died of cancer when he was only 11, two uncles died of cancer when he was a teenager, his brother died of prostate cancer, and he survived his own bout with cancer.
Now his huge contribution to the fight against cancer has received the most famous recognition in the world – the Nobel Prize.
From all of us at SU2C, to each and every one of you who has supported Stand Up to whatever degree you are able to, thank you. We hope that what Dr. Allison and the Dream Team have been able to do for patients—with the contributions you and other donors have made over the years—reaffirms your faith in the SU2C model. We cannot begin to express how grateful we are to you.