Award-winning cancer researcher honored for Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Basic research that led to a new approach to fighting cancer – by attacking it through the body’s immune system – earned Jim Allison, Ph.D., chair of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Immunology Department, a prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Allison, who is also executive director of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program immunotherapy platform, recently received a $3 million prize to recognize excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases. Allison’s research is on the biology of T cells, immune system attack cells primed to identify and destroy infections and the body’s abnormal cells.

His work and the award were recognized by University of Texas System Regents at their February board meeting Wednesday. In explaining his research, Allison said that “this is an entirely new way of treating cancer by not dealing with the cancer cell directly,” while noting that his breakthrough drug could be used to treat kidney, pancreatic, prostate and other cancers.

“This is truly a remarkable advancement to reflect the paradigm-shifting research regarding immunotherapy of advance stage tumors,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. “To see this progress with the potential to save thousands of lives is what we are all about at UT. And I am just as proud of him being an alum of UT and from Alice.”

Growing up in Alice, in South Texas, Allison’s own interest in science was cultivated and encouraged by summer programs at The University of Texas at Austin that he attended starting in middle school.

Among the uses for the prize funds that Allison is considering is a program for high school students and college undergraduates to foster their interest in biomedicine.

Since arriving at MD Anderson in November 2012, Allison founded and directs the 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 bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a doctorate in biological sciences from UT Austin. He originally joined the MD Anderson faculty in 1977. He later moved to the University of California, Berkeley and then to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York before returning to MD Anderson last year.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute alumnus has won numerous honors for biomedical research. Earlier this year, he received the first AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology and also The Economist’s 2013 Innovations Award for Bioscience.

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences recognizes excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life. The prize is administered by the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about science careers.

 About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.


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