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The Economist honors cancer immunotherapy pioneer James Allison
Date:11/7/2013

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Drug treats immune system, not specific tumor

"Immune checkpoint blockade treats the immune system, not the tumor, so we expect this approach to work across many types of cancer," Allison said. In addition to melanoma, ipilumumab has been effective in clinical trials against prostate, kidney, lung and ovarian cancers.

Allison's basic science research on T cell biology uncovered the receptor on these cells used to recognize and bind to antigens abnormalities that mark defective cells or viruses and bacteria for attack.

He also found that T cells require a second molecular signal to launch a response after they've bound to an antigen. And he identified a molecule called CTLA-4 that acts as an off switch to inhibit activated T cells from attacking.

This led to development of ipilumumab to block CTLA-4. In clinical trials against stage 4 melanoma, the drug extinguished the disease in 20 percent of patients for up to 12 years and counting.

Since arriving at MD Anderson in November 2012, Allison founded and directs an immunotherapy platform to cultivate, support and test new development of immunology-based drugs and combinations. MD Anderson's Moon Shots program, designed to accelerate the conversion of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths, taps the expertise of the immunotherapy platform.

Allison earned his doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin in 1978, joining MD Anderson's faculty after his postdoctoral fellowship. He left MD Anderson for the University of California, Berkeley and later moved to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and has won many honors for biomedical research, including the first AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in April 20
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Contact: Scott Merville
smerville@mdanderson.org
713-792-0661
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert

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