James P. Allison succeeds founding scientific and medical director Lloyd J. Old as director of CRI Scientific Advisory Council
NEW YORK, NY – October 3, 2011 – The Cancer Research Institute, Inc. (CRI), a U.S. nonprofit organization established in 1953 to transform cancer patient care through the development of safe and effective strategies to harness the immune system to fight cancer, today announced during the opening session of its 19th Annual Cancer Immunotherapy Symposium in New York City that CRI’s Board of Trustees has named James P. Allison, Ph.D., chair of the immunology program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and creator of the new cancer immunotherapy ipilimumab (Yervoy™), as the new director of the CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council. He succeeds founding scientific and medical director Lloyd J. Old, M.D.
“Jim Allison’s stature within the immunology, cancer immunology, and general scientific communities is nearly unrivaled,” says Dr. Old. “Moreover, Jim has a strong personal commitment to developing better and safer treatments for cancer patients, and a proven track record in bringing a basic discovery from the laboratory into a successful treatment for patients. We are confident that he is the ideal person to direct CRI’s strategic priorities and growth in the years ahead.”
The announcement comes on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Old’s tenure as CRI’s scientific leader and visionary. In his role as CRI scientific director since 1971, through his leadership of other major cancer organizations including the international Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and as an award-winning scientist responsible for numerous seminal discoveries on the immune system and its relationship to cancer, Dr. Old has been a driving force in building the entire field of tumor immunology. His work has made possible many significant scientific and medical advances, including the development of the first FDA-approved cancer immunotherapy, BCG, for treatment of superficial bladder cancer; independent discovery of the p53 protein and demonstration that p53 is altered in human cancers; and the refinement of techniques to identify and characterize cancer-specific antigens, particularly the family of cancer-testis antigens including the prototypic NY-ESO-1 antigen expressed in many cancers and which is the target of a number of promising therapeutic cancer vaccines now in clinical trial.
Dr. Old’s most significant legacy is perhaps the establishment of the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative (CVC), a joint program of CRI and LICR begun in 2001, which united the strengths of both organizations to support a global network of academic clinical trial sites and expert immune monitoring laboratories dedicated to in-depth immunological study of the effect of therapeutic cancer vaccines and other immunotherapies. The CVC has since conducted nearly 50 early-phase clinical trials of single-variable vaccine combinations primarily focused on NY-ESO-1, and has generated the largest body of knowledge on the immunological effect of antigen-specific active cancer immunotherapy.
“For the past four decades Dr. Old and the Cancer Research Institute have been synonymous,” says Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs at CRI. “He has been the visionary architect who shaped CRI’s programmatic agenda and who is responsible for the respected position the Institute now holds as a funding source and thought leader among the scientific and not-for-profit communities. With scientific excellence as its guiding mantra, CRI’s research programs have grown to support not only postdoctoral fellowships but scientists at every stage of their career, spanning the classroom, laboratory, and the clinic, where discovery is translated into therapy.”
In 1995, Dr. Allison demonstrated that the CTLA-4 molecule on T cells acted to inhibit, rather than to stimulate, the immune response as part of the body’s natural ‘checkpoint’ system to protect against dangerous autoimmunity, in which T cells attack normal, healthy cells. Hypothesizing that blocking CTLA-4 could augment immune responses against cancer, Dr. Allison developed a monoclonal antibody against CTLA-4 and showed that it could significantly extend survival in laboratory models of cancer. In 1999, the biotechnology company Medarex developed a version of the antibody that could be tested in patients, and in 2000, clinical trials of the antibody, named ipilimumab, began. Subsequently the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb purchased Medarex and began its own clinical development program around Dr. Allison’s antibody. Earlier this year, following results from a pivotal phase III study showing that ipilimumab is the first therapy ever proven to extend life in patients with advanced melanoma, the antibody received FDA approval under the trade name Yervoy™ for the first-line treatment of patients with this deadly type of cancer.
“Jim Allison personifies the values that have guided CRI since its founding in 1953—excellence in laboratory science, a commitment to translating basic discoveries into treatments for patients, outside-of-the-box thinking, and unfailing persistence,” says O’Donnell-Tormey. “These are the qualities that turned a basic discovery in the laboratory about the CTLA-4 molecule into a new treatment that stands to extend and save the lives of thousands of cancer patients. These qualities reflect CRI’s position today as a leader in bringing better and safer immune-based treatments to patients, and we are confident that Dr. Allison is the ideal person to lead us in realizing that goal.”
About James P. Allison, Ph.D.
Dr. Allison is the David H. Koch Chair in Immunological Studies and chair of the immunology program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the world’s most prestigious cancer treatment and research centers. He is also director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at MSKCC, an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an associate director of the global Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine, Dr. Allison has served on CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council as a member since 2004, as an associate director since 2006, and as director as of October 1, 2011. He is a past president of the American Association of Immunologists, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology, CRI’s most prestigious scientific award.