Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



The Future Is Now: Honoring Scientists and Philanthropists Who Lay the Foundation for New Cancer Treatments

The Cancer Research Institute (CRI)’s 34th Annual Awards Gala took a new approach to honoring the dedicated individuals who advance the development of cancer immunotherapy on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at the first-ever CRI Virtual Awards Gala. Host Joel McHale, an actor and comedian best known for his work on Community and The Soup, guided attendees through touching testimonials from CRI scientists, patient advocates, and supporters; scientific and philanthropic award presentations; and a special musical performance by Gordon Brown and Reagan Richards of Williams Honor. 

Williams Honor was not the only entertainment for the night as 2018 Nobel Laureate and CRI Scientific Advisory Council Director James P. Allison, PhD, surprised everyone when he played several classic blues tunes on his harmonica and sang to the audience. One of his harmonicas has a very personal and special meaning as K.C. Dill, a CRI ImmunoAdvocate and cancer patient treated with immunotherapy, contacted Willie Nelson’s harmonicist, Mickey Raphael, to have it custom made and inscribed with the words “Texas T Cell Mechanic.”  

“It is really an honor to me. I love, I love this thing,” shared Dr. Allison. “Whenever I play gospel, some other stuff, I use this C harp, really feels nice, and it's got some love in it.”

Dr. Allison also earned some new fans that evening among the followers of the 2020 Oliver R. Grace Award recipient Mark E. Fischbach, also known as Markiplier. “Came for Markiplier, stayed for that sick harmonica,” exclaimed one YouTube commenter.

Markiplier is the youngest recipient of the Oliver R. Grace Award for Distinguished Service in Advancing Cancer Research since its creation in 1975. In 2018, Markiplier, a long-time CRI supporter, YouTube sensation, and philanthropist, raised $500,000 for CRI in just two days by selling signed copies of a tasteful nudes calendar to his then more than 20 million YouTube subscribers. (Today, he has more than 27 million subscribers and over 50 million followers across social media.)

“If I can sell my body to raise money for charity, you better believe I'm going to do that. So that's exactly what I did,” explained Markiplier in his acceptance speech.

We applaud Markiplier’s creative use of new media to inspire younger audiences to support charitable causes to improve the world.

The people those charitable donations go to are, of course, some of the brightest scientists and physicians around the world, who work to create a future immune to cancer. CRI bestowed its highest honors upon six scientists that have helped advance the fields of immunology and cancer immunotherapy.

The Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology recognizes former CRI postdoctoral fellows whose scientific contributions have had a major impact in immunology. CRI Scientific Advisory Council Associate Director Robert D. Schreiber, PhD, presented this year’s award to Tannishtha Reya, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, for deepening our knowledge of how stem cell programs drive cancer progression and therapy resistance, and how such programs can be targeted to improve patient outcomes.  

The William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology is given to scientists who have increased our understanding of how the immune system responds to cancer and who have developed effective cancer immunotherapies. Dr. Allison presented this year’s award to five scientists for their contributions to the discovery and characterization of the cGAS-STING pathway. This pathway is an important part of the innate immune system and is currently being used to develop novel cancer immunotherapies. Please join us in congratulating the 2020 William B. Coley Award recipients:

  • Andrea Ablasser, MD, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • Glen N. Barber, PhD, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
  • Zhijian J. Chen, PhD, of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • Veit Hornung, MD, of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  • Russell E. Vance, PhD, of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of California, Berkeley

The 2020 CRI Virtual Awards Gala highlighted what is possible when donors, scientists, and technology come together to overcome life’s adversities. A global pandemic did not prevent the recognition of individuals committed to improving the lives of others through science and philanthropy. Not only did CRI raise over $400,000 from generous individuals wishing to further cancer research during this event, we were also able to spread our lifesaving message to millions of diverse people on YouTube and Twitter. We hope this new audience will support CRI’s mission to save more lives through the discovery and development of powerful immunotherapies for all types of cancer.

CRI would like to thank the sponsors, donors, scientists, patients, advocates, and staff members who contributed to the success of our first-ever virtual awards gala.


Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation


Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, LLC
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
Thomas and Andrea Mendell Foundation
Margaret and Andrew M. Paul
Betsy and Paul Shiverick
Jane and Jim Stern
Purva and Andrew Tsai


Brian J. Brille
Lisa Lee and Peter Zhou
Sharzad and Michael Targoff
Lauren and John Veronis
Vicki and Ron Weiner
Jim and Audra Weiss

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