Meet Jim Allison, the Carousing Texan Who Just Won a Nobel Prize For His Cancer Immunotherapy Breakthrough
Jim Allison is an iconoclastic scientist who toiled in obscurity for years. Then he helped crack a mystery that may save millions of lives: Why doesn’t the immune system attack cancer?Allison’s breakthrough was the discovery of a sort of secret handshake that cancer uses to evade the immune system, and a means to block that handshake—what the Nobel committee hailed as “a landmark in our fight against cancer,” which has “revolutionized cancer treatment, fundamentally changing the way we view how cancer can be managed.” (Allison’s co-recipient was Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University.) Advances in cancer typically come in 50-year increments; the science that Allison and Honjo helped advance, cancer immunotherapy, has made a generational leap seemingly overnight.Until very recently we’ve had three main methods for treating cancer. We’ve had surgery for at least 3,000 years. We added radiation therapy in 1896. Then in 1946, chemical warfare research led to the use of a mustard gas derivative to kill cancer cells. Those poisons were the foundation for chemotherapy.