James Allison was born in Alice, Texas. He obtained his B.S. (1969) and Ph.D. (1973) from the University of Texas at Austin. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation he joined the faculty of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Science Park in Smithville, Texas in 1974 as Assistant Biochemist. He moved to the University of California, Berkeley in 194 as Professor of Immunology. At Berkeley he served as Director of the Cancer Research Laboratory, Head of the Division of Immunology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, and Co-chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. In 2004 he moved to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York City, where he was Professor of Immunology, Chair of Immunology and Director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy. In 2012 he moved to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is Professor of Immunology, Chair of the Department of Immunology, and Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform.
Allison’s fundamental discoveries include the definition of the structure of the T cell antigen receptor, demonstration that the T cell molecule CD28 provides costimulatory signals necessary for full T cells activation, and identification of the inhibitory checkpoint molecule CTLA-4, which inhibits activated T cells. He proposed that immune checkpoint blockade might be a powerful strategy for therapy of many cancer types, and conducted preclinical experiments showing its potential. He was involved in the development of ipilimumab, which was approved by the FDA for treatment of metastatic melanoma in 2011. His development of immune checkpoint blockade transformed cancer therapy and has been responsible for saving the lives of thousands of cancer patients.
Dr. Allison is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. In 1997 he was appointed as an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a position that he held until his move to MD Anderson. He has received numerous national and international awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Immunologists, the Lloyd J. Old Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Novartis Award for Clinical Immunology, and the Economist Magazine Innovation Prize for Biomedicine, the Breakthrough Prize in Bioscience, the Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, the first Tang Prize for Biopharaceutical Science, Canada Gairdner International Award, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Giants of Cancer Care Award in Scientific Advances, the Harvey Prize in Human Health, the AACR/Pezcoller International Award for Cancer Research, and the ASCO Science of Oncology Award.