James Allison, the Houston scientist whose pioneering research has led to a new class of cancer treatment that frees the immune system to attack tumors, will be presented with another major award this weekend.
Allison will be named the 2015 recipient of the American Association for Cancer Research's Pezcoller International Award for Cancer Research at the organization's annual meeting being held Saturday through Wednesday. The award, now in its 18th year, recognizes a scientist of international renown who has made a major scientific discovery in basic or translational cancer research.
"Dr. Allison is a world-renowned immunologist, and we are delighted to recognize his extraordinary scientific accomplishments and leadership in the field of cancer immunotherapy," Dr. Margaret Foti, the association's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Dr. Allison's work epitomizes how basic laboratory research can be translated to a lifesaving cancer treatment, and he is greatly deserving of this accolade."
Foti specifically praised Allison's dedicated efforts for establishing the paradigm of immune checkpoint inhibitors, the term used for the class of drugs that blocks a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system. Allison discovered the brake, then developed a drug that releases it so the immune system is unleashed to go after cancer cells.
The award is just the latest among many Allison has received for his discovery. They include the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the National Foundation for Cancer Research's Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science, the American Association of Immunologists' Lifetime Achievement Award, the Centeon Award for Innovative Breakthroughs in Immunology, the Cancer Research Institute's William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Biology and Columbia University's Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry.
Allison and his wife and scientific and clinical collaborator Dr. Padmanee Sharma last week published a paper in the journal Cell calling for a major initiative to determine how to combine immunotherapy and smart drugs that target only cancerous cells, two approaches that have shown great successes but still don't work consistently. The couple argue the two approaches could be a potent tandem, but without changes in directions of research support and funding, the potential could go unrealized because scientists will largely stay in their own camps.