For the discovery and development of a monoclonal antibody therapy that unleashes the immune system to combat cancer.
The 2015 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors a scientist who discovered and developed a monoclonal antibody therapy that unleashes the immune system to combat cancer. By blocking a protein that normally restrains the body’s natural ability to attack tumor cells, James P. Allison (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center) devised a fundamentally new strategy for treating malignancies. Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers.
Allison’s work has already benefited thousands of people with advanced melanoma, a disease that typically used to kill people in less than a year. The therapy he conceived has delivered recoveries that last for a decade or more.
Award presentation by Michael Bishop
In 1890, the Russian playwright and physician Anton Chekov wrote a letter in which he alluded to a centuries-old observation that infections seemed to slow the growth of malignant tumors. For Chekov and most others of his time, the observation held little meaning. For William Coley, however, it fueled a medical crusade.
Coley was a contemporary of Chekhov’s and a bone surgeon at what is now the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Inspired by the death of one of his earliest patients, he reviewed the case histories of individuals with bone cancer and noticed that bacterial infections following surgery seemed to improve the outcome. He reasoned that infection stimulated the immune system, which in turn destroyed cancer cells that had escaped the surgeon’s knife.
Acceptance remarks by James P. Allison
Interview with James Allison
Video Credit: Flora Lichtman