Rehab Cell

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

2017 Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine to James P. Allison

2017 Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine to James P. Allison


Fighting cancer with the
weapons of our immune system is now a reality
thanks to the work of the American immunologist
James P. Allison, winner of the tenth edition
of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award
in the Biomedicine category. His research has allowed the
development of the first
oncological drug that works by activating our
own defenses, ipilimumab, approved in 2011 by the US
Food and Drug Administration. This treatment is able to fight metastatic melanoma with
high effectiveness, increasing survival
rates up to ten years in about 20 percent of patients. When we started this work the medium life expectancy
after diagnosis with melanoma, was 11 months and now, again,
we have a fraction of patients, 20 percent or so that are cured
basically 10 years later. And it looks like we’ll be able
to get that up 60 percent. Between 1982 and 1991, the
award-winner carried out
fundamental discoveries to identify three
key elements of the immune
system: the T lymphocytes receptor and
the CD-28 molecule, which
activates it, and the CTLA-4, which
slows down its activity. CTLA-4 had been
known for a while, but nobody knew what it did. What we did was to show that it was actually the brakes. It shut off the immune response. It was born in 1995, after having tested it
successfully in mice, a new therapeutic
line in oncology: the inhibition of the
immune checkpoints. Today, other drugs
have been approved based on the same principle
devised by Allison, their efficacy being
shown in kidney, head and neck, bladder
and lung tumours. But much still
remains to be done. Next challenges are really
to get these therapies to work in a higher
fraction of patients and in cancer tumours they have
not yet been successful against such as glioblastoma
and pancreatic cancer. Allison is optimistic
about immunotherapy in the fight against cancer but he recognises
that it’s necessary to continue combining it
with conventional therapies such as chemotherapy
and radiotherapy. He admits that it’s not possible
to completely defeat cancer, but he’s convinced
that we’ll have more and more powerful
weapons to combat it.

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