Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Dana-Farber’s Dr. Gordon Freeman Honored with AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award

Web Award ceremony photo with Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Gordon Freeman, and Iganacio Melero
CRI’s CEO and Director of Scientific Affairs, Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, is seen pictured with the AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award winner, Dr. Gordon Freeman, and Dr. Ignacio Melero. (Photo: Ajit Muley, PhD)

On April 8, 2024, Gordon Freeman, PhD, FAACR, was awarded with the prestigious AACR-Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology at the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in San Diego.  

Dr. Freeman, who is affiliated with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School as a Department of Medical Oncology professor of medicine, has produced research that has paved the way for the development of immunotherapy treatments for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and transplant rejection. 

The AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award is named after CRI’s founding scientific and medical director and is given annually to an active scientist whose impact on the field of cancer immunology is far-reaching and groundbreaking. 

“We are thrilled to recognize Dr. Gordon J. Freeman with the AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award for his groundbreaking contributions to the field of cancer immunology. Dr. Freeman’s work on PD-L1 and PD-L2 has not only deepened our understanding of immune regulation but has also paved the way for transformative cancer immunotherapies,” CRI CEO and Director of Scientific Affairs Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, said after the announcement of this year’s Lloyd J. Old award. “Dr. Freeman’s research exemplifies Lloyd Old’s prescient vision, honors Lloyd’s legacy, and embodies CRI’s mission to save more lives by driving the discovery and advancement of potent immunotherapies for all cancer types.” 

Specifically, Dr. Freeman’s research led to the discovery of the PD-1 signaling pathway and PD-1’s ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. Additionally, Dr. Freeman was recognized for highlighting the role of the PD-1 pathway in a tumor’s ability to evade immunosurveillance, and for illuminating that blocking this pathway can lead to a robust antitumor immune response.  

“PD-L1/PD-1 blockers are now FDA approved for 25 different types of cancer with response rates ranging from 15-90%, averaging about 30% in the common solid tumors. Some of these patients have durable, multi-year benefit.  The PD-L1/PD-1 blocker drugs are gentler than chemotherapy, with about 14% of patients having a serious, mostly immune-related, side effect.  This has added a new strategy to cancer care and given new hope to cancer patients,” Dr. Freeman told CRI. 

In presenting Dr. Freeman with the award, former CRI Investigator and Co-Director of the Department of Immunology and Immunotherapy Researcher at Cima Universidad de Navarra, Dr. Ignacio Melero, said “Gordon Freeman is honored because of his discoveries regarding PD-L1/PD-1 and their function in the regulation of the immune response. The rest of that is history. And those discoveries were part of the wisdom that have led to a major transformation of clinical

For himself, Dr. Freeman expressed gratitude to AACR and CRI for bestowing the Lloyd J. Old award on him, saying, “This is a biggie. The people who understand tumor immunology think I did something important.  It means a lot coming from the CRI and AACR, the organizations and people who understand and have championed cancer immunology and new therapies.” 

Following his acceptance speech, Dr. Freeman gave a 20-minute lecture about his work surrounding PD-1 to around 150 people, after which, many lined up to meet and speak with this year’s award recipient. Freeman believes though progress has been made, there is still much work to be done. 

“I’m excited to see all the new ideas and energy in cancer immunology.  The new technologies bring amazing depths of understanding to cancer and the anti-cancer immune response.  The new investigators coming into the field now know that cancers can be cured, and their work will find new ways,” Freeman concluded.

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