About CRI

Lloyd J. Old 75th Birthday Tribute

The following remarks were made by CRI executive director* Jill O'Donnell-Tormey at the opening of the Institute's 16th Annual International Cancer Immunotherapy Symposium on September 15, 2008. (*As of July 1, 2011, Dr. O'Donnell-Tormey's title is chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs.)


I am Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, executive director of the Cancer Research Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our 16th International Cancer Immunotherapy Symposium. This is a unique year for this meeting, because it is the first since CRI took over management of the Cancer Vaccine Consortium. Prior to joining forces with CRI, the Consortium each year in the fall also organized an annual meeting aimed at bringing together leaders from the scientific community, regulatory agencies, academic institutions, and biopharmaceutical companies to address challenges and to develop practical solutions for advancing the development of cancer vaccines. Because CRI will now organize both meetings, we have decided for 2008 only to combine the two, and present an expanded agenda, hence the title of this year’s meeting Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy 2008: From Discovery to Development to Drug. In 2009, we will go back to organizing two separate meetings. CRI’s traditional symposium in New York in the fall and a Cancer Vaccine Consortium meeting in Bethesda, MD, in the spring. We will be announcing dates shortly for these meetings and you all will receive notifications.

I’d like to thank the organizing committee of this year’s meeting: Jim Allison, Glenn Dranoff, Axel Hoos, Hy Levitsky, Lloyd Old, Ellen Puré, and Bob Schreiber. I greatly appreciate the time and effort that they contribute to CRI. It is their input over the years that has made the Institute’s symposium series so successful.

And now before we open the first session, I must ask your indulgence for a few more minutes. We at the Cancer Research Institute thought that this venue would be the most appropriate one at which to celebrate a milestone birthday of the person who has been the guiding hand and scientific visionary behind not only this symposium series for the past 16 years, but also all of CRI’s research programs for the past 37 years, as director of our Scientific Advisory Council. So here among his many colleagues and friends we would like to acknowledge the contributions and lifelong accomplishments of Lloyd Old on his 75th birthday. We have put together a brief slide show featuring Lloyd through the years and while that plays I will attempt to summarize Lloyd’s illustrious career and encapsulate what he means to us at CRI and to the field of cancer immunology by borrowing quotes and anecdotes from his many friends on CRI’s board and Scientific Advisory Council, and from among his scientific colleagues.

Lloyd_OldDr. Old is internationally recognized as one of the founders and standard-bearers of the field of tumor immunology. He has served as the associate director of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from 1973 through 1983 and has held the William E. Snee Chair of cancer immunology at Memorial since 1983. He served as director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research from 1988 through 2005, he is still the director of the New York Branch of the Ludwig at Memorial, and also serves as chairman of the Board of LICR. And since 1971, he has been the director of the Cancer Research Institute’s Scientific Advisory Council.

When Dr. Old began his career in 1958, tumor immunology was in its infancy. Now cancer immunotherapies are emerging potentially as one of the most significant advances in cancer therapy since the development of the first chemotherapies, and many of the seminal findings in the field that have lead to this evolution have been contributed by Dr. Old, his students, and colleagues. I will try to quickly name a few of these discoveries. And I must apologize for not mentioning the names of the many investigators who worked with Lloyd and share credit for these:

  • Introduced BCG, the tuberculosis vaccine, into experimental cancer research as a way to stimulate non-specific resistance to tumor growth. BCG is now widely used to treat superficial bladder cancer.
  • Discovered the first linkage between the major histocompatability complex (MHC) and a disease state – mouse leukemia opening the way for the recognition of the importance of the MHC in the immune response.
  • Discovered the association between Epstein-Barr Virus and nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Discovered tumor necrosis factor, a cytokine of critical importance in health and disease.
  • Discovered the first cell surface antigens distinguishing cells of different lineages, introducing the concept of cell surface differentiation antigens. This discovery led directly to the CD classification and the wide use of cell surface markers to distinguish and classify normal and malignant cells.
  • Discovered p53, a critical molecule in the origin of cancer.
  • Conducted the most comprehensive dissection of the cell surface of human cancers using monoclonal antibodies, with the identification of an array of cell surface antigens as targets for antibody-based therapies of human cancer. In fact 13 of the monoclonal antibodies developed in Lloyd’s lab have been licensed and 7 are in clinical trials.
  • Established the autologous typing system as the methodology leading to the identification of the first specific human tumor antigens recognized by antibodies and T cells.
  • Conducted the most comprehensive analysis of the humoral immune response to human cancer, defining “the cancer immunome,” and identifying a battery of targets for human cancer vaccines.
  • Contributed to the resurrection of the cancer immunosurveillance
  • Named and discovered several members of the CT (cancer/testis) family of human tumor antigens

Quite a remarkable career. But even with such an impressive scientific resume, Lloyd has told me that what he is most proud of is his establishment of the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative. In 2001, with Lloyd as the director of the Cancer Research Institute’s Scientific Advisory Council and as the director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, he orchestrated a unique partnership between these two organizations to form a coordinated global network of laboratory and clinical scientists that has grown to include 22 different academic centers. The Cancer Vaccine Collaborative’s aim is to construct effective cancer vaccines by focusing on a single antigen, NY-ESO-1, and testing in parallel and single variable clinical trials the comparative immunogenicity of different vaccine constructs. The underlying premise of this effort is that once immunogenicity has been established, therapeutic endpoints can be rationally assessed, reflecting Lloyd’s often heard mantra that "to vaccinate, you need to know how to immunize, and to immunize you need to know how to monitor."

Although all of us in the field of tumor immunology acknowledge Lloyd’s tremendous contributions that have helped put the field on a solid scientific foundation, and although the Cancer Research Institute owes such a debt of gratitude to Lloyd for being the scientific compass of the organization, for those of us who have had the privilege of working closely with Lloyd, for those he has mentored, and for the lucky ones who can call him a friend, our gratitude and appreciation go well beyond his scientific acumen.

As attested to over and over again by his many friends whom I contacted in preparing this tribute, there was unanimous consensus that this most polite gentleman who possesses such a "brilliant mind" and exhibits such "deep scholarship" is so "genuinely caring, kind, and compassionate." Some of us may remember Lloyd saying, "One should only surprise people with one’s kindness." And true to his words, Lloyd does just that.

As his sister Constance told me, Lloyd was brought up to be a contributing citizen, he was taught that he was given certain gifts and responsibilities and if he didn’t live up to them he would be a disappointment to his parents. I think that expectation has carried over in to all that he does in life. He feels a deep responsibility for his students and colleagues. It is not a superficial interest, but rather a true and abiding one. When you are in need of help or advice, whether on personal, professional, or medical matters, Lloyd always has time for you, he takes a true interest. He goes above and beyond. To have Lloyd as a friend is a gift. He is loyal, and true, and never forgets you. A return call always comes, even if it is at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.

Lloyd is a quiet leader who displays an unusually calm facade that hides an almost fierce passion that is punctuated by determination and persistence, qualities that have certainly served him well once he decide in the late 50s to commit himself to this field of tumor immunology, which has seen so many hills and valleys of enthusiasm over the past half century. He is a thinker and a planner.  A true visionary, who sees the many pieces that need to be put into place to accomplish a lofty goal. He thinks long term and multi-step.

Because of his selflessness, another trait so often mentioned when describing him, he has a knack for giving credit to others, inspiring a young investigator by asking a scientific question that subsequently catalyzes his or her research path for years to come, and he deliberately works at bringing people together and keeps them together with constant contact, as well we know, through the many hours he spends on the phone talking to his host of international collaborators. And throughout these many years, he continues to exhibit the same intensity of interest, the same unbridled curiosity, the same obsession with treating cancer, the same enthusiasm, and the same wry humor, which we know is "half in jest and full in earnest." But I sense recently a restlessness, an impatience, and with that more of his passion is coming to the surface. He is more overtly forceful in his views and is pushing all of us who work with him even harder. And we do not want to disappoint him.

Lloyd Old and Jill O'Donnell-TormeyIt seems almost remarkable to me that I have the pleasure and honor to call Lloyd Old my friend and mentor. When he interviewed me 22 years ago for the position of director of public information at CRI, he was to me, a mythical figure. I now know that there is real substance behind the myth. He is a Renaissance man with a depth and breadth of knowledge not only in science, but also in music, philosophy, and literature. He is a senior statesman of immunology, who exhibits a unique commitment to both basic research and to developing the field of cancer immunotherapy. He also had a deep commitment to Helen Coley Nauts, the founder of the Cancer Research Institute and daughter of William B. Coley, who developed Coley’s Toxins. He counseled Helen and diplomatically guided her and CRI toward immunology, moving it away from Coley’s Toxins and focusing it on the training of young scientists in this discipline. And, in so doing he turned CRI into the respected scientific organization that it is today. But he never forgot what I think he saw as a duty to Helen to help her restore her father’s place in history, always reminding her that science needed to catch up to Coley, and I believe he is responsible for the world now crediting Coley as the Father of Cancer Immunotherapy.

Lloyd, I know you occasionally tell me, "Jill O’Donnell Torm, even an old dog likes to get petted once and a while." I know I am not usually very demonstrative and I often fail to acknowledge all that you do for me and CRI, but I do hope that this small tribute has conveyed to you exactly what you mean to me and your extended family at the Cancer Research Institute.

You are a true giant in the field and as Bob Schreiber told me, and I believe many others would echo his sentiment, we look to you as the Father of Modern Tumor Immunology.

Happy Birthday, we are all lucky to have you in our lives.

And to complete the celebration we have arranged for the Shanghai String Quartet to perform tomorrow evening right here on the stage. Because we know second to science is your love of music and we could think of no other gift that would please you more.