James P. Allison

James Patrick Allison (born in August 7, 1948)[1] is an American immunologist and Nobel laureate who holds the position of professor and chair of immunology and executive director of immunotherapy platform at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.

James Allison
Allison at the Nobel press conference in Stockholm, December 2018
James Patrick Allison

(1948-08-07) August 7, 1948[1]
EducationUniversity of Texas, Austin (BS, MS, PhD)
Known forCancer immunotherapy
Malinda Bell
(m. 1969; div. 2012)

Padmanee Sharma (m. 2014)
AwardsBreakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2014)
Tang Prize (2014)[2]
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (2014)
Harvey Prize (2014)
Gairdner Foundation International Award (2014)
Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (2015)[3]
Wolf Prize (2017)
Balzan Prize (2017)
Sjöberg Prize (2017)
King Faisal International Prize (2018)
Albany Medical Center Prize (2018)
Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research (2018)[4]
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2018)
Scientific career
InstitutionsM. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Weill Cornell Medicine
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, San Francisco
University of Texas at Austin
ThesisStudies on bacterial asparaginases: I. Isolation and characterization of a tumor inhibitory asparaginase from Alcaligenes Eutrophus. II. Insolubilization of L-Asparaginase by covalent attachment to nylon tubing (1973)
Doctoral advisorBarrie Kitto

His discoveries have led to new cancer treatments for the deadliest cancers. He is also the director of the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) scientific advisory council. He has a longstanding interest in mechanisms of T-cell development and activation, the development of novel strategies for tumor immunotherapy, and is recognized as one of the first people to isolate the T-cell antigen receptor complex protein.[5][6]

In 2014, he was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences; in 2018, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Tasuku Honjo.[7][8]

Early life

Allison was born on 7 August 1948 in Alice, Texas, the youngest of three sons of Constance Kalula (Lynn) and Albert Murphy Allison.[9] He was inspired by his 8th grade math teacher to pursue a career in science, spending a summer in a NSF–funded summer science-training program at the University of Texas, Austin and completing high school biology by correspondence course at Alice High School.[10][11] Allison earned a B.S. degree in microbiology from University of Texas, Austin in 1969, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He earned his Ph.D. degree in biological science in 1973, also from UT Austin, as a student of G. Barrie Kitto.[12][13]


From 1974 to 1977, Allison worked as postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in California. Then he worked as assistant biochemist and assistant professor at MD Anderson to 1984.[14] He was appointed a professor of immunology and director of the Cancer Research Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley in 1985 and was concurrently appointed professor at the University of California, San Francisco from 1997.[15]

In 2004, he moved to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City to become the director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy and the chair of the immunology program as well as the Koch chair in immunologic studies and attending immunologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He was a professor of Weill Cornell Medicine and co-chair of the Department of Graduate Program in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences from 2004 to 2012, and also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator until 2012, when he left to join the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in 2012. Since 2012 he has been chair of immunology at M.D. Anderson.[14]

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine), and is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is director of the Cancer Research Institute scientific advisory council. Previously, he served as president of the American Association of Immunologists.

Allison serves as a commentator in the Cancer documentary.


Allison trained at Scripps Research under tumor-immunologist Ralph Reisfeld, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, researching human leukocyte antigens (HLA) and T-cells and exploring the role HLA proteins play in enabling the immune system to distinguish self from invaders. In 1977, Allison and a colleague, G. N. Callahan, reported in a letter to Nature that they had found evidence that the immune system was prevented from attacking cancer cells due to antigens’ association with additional proteins. Finding the factors that inhibited the immune attack on cancer has been key to developing checkpoint-blockade cancer immunotherapies.[15]

Allison's research to elucidate mechanisms of T-cell responses was conducted in the 1990s at the University of California, Berkeley.[16][17] In the early 1990s, Jim Allison showed that CTLA-4 acts as an inhibitory molecule to restrict T-cell responses. In 1996, Allison was the first to show that antibody blockade of a T-cell inhibitory molecule (known as CTLA-4) could lead to enhanced anti-tumor immune responses and tumor rejection.

This concept of blocking T-cell inhibitory pathways as a way of unleashing anti-tumor immune responses and eliciting clinical benefit laid the foundation for the development of other drugs that target T-cell inhibitory pathways, which have been labeled as "immune checkpoint therapies".[10] This work ultimately led to the clinical development of ipilimumab (Yervoy), which was approved in 2011 by the FDA for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.

Allison's research is in molecular immunology of the T-cell antigen receptor complex, co-stimulatory receptors, and other molecules involved in T-cell activation. He is particularly interested in finding signals that lead to differentiation of naive T-cells and also those that determine whether antigen receptor engagement will lead to functional activation or inactivation of T-cells. Once defined, the basic studies are used to develop new strategies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and immunotherapy of cancer. Most recently he has been interested in understanding the immune responses in cancer patients who respond to immunotherapy. He established the immunotherapy platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center to study immune responses in cancer patients.[18]


In 2011 Allison won the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award for Biotechnology and Medicine[19] and was awarded the American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award.[20] In 2013 he shared the Novartis Prize for Clinical Immunology. In 2014 he shared the first Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science with Tasuku Honjo,[2] won the 9th Annual Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research of the National Foundation for Cancer Research, received the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Canada Gairdner International Award,[21] the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize,[22] and the Harvey Prize [23] of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa. In 2015, he received the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.[3]

In 2017 he received the Wolf Prize in Medicine [24] and the Balzan Prize for Immunological Approaches in Cancer Therapy (this prize jointly with Robert D. Schreiber).[25] In 2018 he received the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine,[26] the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.[27]

He, along with Tasuku Honjo, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2018 for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.[28][29][30]

Personal life

Allison married Malinda Bell in 1969. They have one son, Robert Allison, born in 1990, who is, as of 2018, an architect in New York City. Allison and Malinda lived separate lives for many years and eventually divorced in 2012. Allison met Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD through Dr. Lloyd Old in 2004. Allison and Sharma became collaborators and friends and married 10 years later in 2014. Allison is stepfather to Thalia Sharma Persaud, Avani Sharma Persaud and Kalyani Sharma Persaud.[31] Allison's mother died of lymphoma[15] when he was 11. His brother died of prostate cancer in 2005. He plays the harmonica for a blues band of immunologists and oncologists called the Checkpoints. He also plays with a local band called the Checkmates.[31]


  1. "James P. Allison – Facts – 2018". NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB. 1 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  2. "First Tang Prize for Biopharmaceutical Science Awarded to James P. Allison, PhD, and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD". www.tang-prize.org. ASCO Post. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  3. Foundation, Lasker. "Unleashing the immune system to combat cancer | The Lasker Foundation". The Lasker Foundation. Lasker Foundation. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  4. "James Allison wins 2018 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research". Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  5. "James Allison". Cancer Research Institute. Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  6. Blair, Jenny (2014-05-02). "Raising the Tail". The Alcalde. Texas Exes. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  7. "2014 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science". Archived from the original on 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2016-06-18.
  8. Devlin, Hannah (2018-10-01). "James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  9. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VD62-RT3
  10. Cavallo, Jo (15 September 2014). "Immunotherapy Research of James P. Allison, PhD, Has Led to a Paradigm Shift in the Treatment of Cancer - The ASCO Post". www.ascopost.com. ASCO Post. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  11. Lopez, Monica (October 1, 2018). "Alice native Dr. James Allison awarded 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine". Corpus Christi Caller Times.
  12. Barton, Jackson (October 2, 2018). "Alumni receives Nobel Prize for revolutionary cancer treatment". The Daily Texan.
  13. Allison, James Patrick (1973). Studies on bacterial asparaginases: I. Isolation and characterization of a tumor inhibitory asparaginase from Alcaligenes Eutrophus. II. Insolubilization of L-Asparaginase by covalent attachment to nylon tubing (Ph.D.). The University of Texas at Austin. OCLC 43380316 via ProQuest.
  14. "James P. Allison, Ph.D. - Immunology - Faculty - MD Anderson Cancer Center". faculty.mdanderson.org. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  15. "Meet the Carousing Texan Who Just Won a Nobel Prize". WIRED. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  16. Leach, D. R.; Krummel, M. F.; Allison, J. P. (1996-03-22). "Enhancement of Antitumor Immunity by CTLA-4 Blockade". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 271 (5256): 1734–1736. doi:10.1126/science.271.5256.1734. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 8596936.
  17. "UC Berkeley Cancer Research Lab » The Story of Yervoy (Ipilimumab)". crl.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
  18. "James P. Allison - Researcher Profile | Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center". Memorial Sloan - Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  19. "Past winners". brandeis.edu. Brandeis University. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  20. "Past Recipients". The American Association of Immunologists. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  21. Ackerman, Todd (4 April 2014). "The scientist who just might cure cancer". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  22. "Horwitz Prize Awarded for Work on Therapy That Uses the Immune System to Destroy Cancer Cells". Cumc.columbia.edu. 2014-10-02. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  23. Harvey Prize 2014 Archived 2015-07-02 at the Wayback Machine
  24. "Wolf Prize to be awarded to eight laureates from US, UK and Switzerland". Jpost.com. 2017-01-03. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  25. "Fondazione Balzan". www.balzan.org.
  26. "King Faisal International Prize 2018". Kfip.org. 2018-04-01. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  27. "Trailblazing Researchers in Immunotherapy Selected to Receive America's Most Distinguished Prize in Medicine". Amc.edu. 2018-08-15. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  28. "Discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation" (PDF). The Nobel Assembly. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  29. Hannah, Devlin. "James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  30. "All Nobel Prizes". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  31. Ackerman, Todd (30 December 2015). "For pioneering immunotherapy researcher, the work is far from over". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
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