MD Anderson scientist shares global prize for major cancer immunotherapy innovation

Jim Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has been named joint recipient of the inaugural Tang Prize for Biopharmaceutical Science for breakthroughs in fighting cancer.

Allison shares the prize with Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D., of Japan’s Kyoto University. "Both scholars’ discoveries have opened a new therapeutic era in medicine,” said Lee Yuan-tseh, Ph.D., Taiwan’s winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry, at the award announcement in Taipei, Taiwan, last week.

Allison launched an entirely new way to treat cancer by blocking molecules on immune system T cells that turn off immune response. The treatment, called immune checkpoint blockade, grew out of his basic science research to understand the biology of T cells – the immune system’s customized attackers.

Allison and Honjo were selected from hundreds of international nominees for the award, which recognizes original research that has led to significant advances in preventing, diagnosing and treating major human diseases. Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s preeminent academic organization, similar to the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, administered award selection.

Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin established the biennial Tang Prize in December 2012. The 2014 prizes provide a cash award of NT$40 million ($1.3 million) and research grant of NT$10 million.