James Allison, PhD, to Lead New Immunotherapy Unit at MD Anderson

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James P. Allison, PhD, a Nobel Laureate and Giants of Cancer Care® award winner, will head up the new James P. Allison Institute at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

James P. Allison, PhD

James P. Allison, PhD

James P. Allison, PhD, a Nobel Laureate and Giants of Cancer Care® award winner, will head up the new James P. Allison Institute at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.1 The institute, described as, “a visionary research and innovation hub designed to foster groundbreaking science,” will explore immunotherapy agents and seek to make these treatments available to more patients.

MD Anderson announced the new institute in a press conference on Thursday, March 24.

Allison is regental chair of the Department of Immunology, the Olga Keith Wiess Distinguished University Chair for Cancer Research, director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Research, and the executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson. He now adds director of the Allison Institute to his duties.

“I'm really so happy to be here at this moment to actually see this institute actually becoming a reality,” he said. “I'm humbled to be its namesake, but I'm also pleased to have my name associated with an institute [where] the goal of which is to do really great things going forward.”

Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD, professor of genitourinary medical oncology and immunology at MD Anderson, as well as Allison’s wife and longtime research partner, will serve as the institute’s scientific director. Raghu Kalluri, MD, PhD, a professor and chair of cancer biology at MD Anderson, has been named director of operations for the institute.

Allison shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD. Allison made fundamental discoveries in T-cell biology and helped to develop ipilimumab (Yervoy), the first immune checkpoint inhibitor approved to treat patients with cancer. Honjo’s lab discovered the protein PD-1, a frequent target for immunotherapy agents.

In 2014, Allison was recognized as the Giants of Cancer Care® winner in translational scientific advances for these discoveries.

He said that immunotherapy agents represented a great leap forward in cancer care. However, Sharma’s own research has shown that only 20% to 40% of patients derive benefit.2 The institute wants to expand those benefits to all patients with cancer.

“Our goal of the institute is to change all of this and raise the survival curve for all cancers, as high as we can get, as close to 100% as we could get them, [and bring] cures to more patients,” he said. “We’re not merely trying to improve survival by weeks or months. We’re trying to find cures.”

Sharma said in the press conference that the institute will lead a “culture shift” in medicine.

Members of the institute will include experts from several categories of clinical investigation, including established and rising scientists work onsite, and internal and external scientists contributing to collaborative projects. Project-focused teams will be assembled to integrate expertise across scientific disciplines. The teams will be reassembled to respond to the evolving scientific landscape as progress is made or new questions are revealed.

“We won’t be siloed,” Sharma said.

These teams will have access to the infrastructure already present at MD Anderson, including innovative research platforms, cutting-edge data science efforts and the drug discovery and development capabilities of the Division of Therapeutics Discovery.

MD Anderson is developing specialized core facilities and platforms to support both the work of the institute and the cancer center’s priority research efforts. The institute itself will be housed in state-of-the-art facilities now being constructed on the 5 million square-foot, $5.4 billion Texas Medical Center life-science campus and will occupy future laboratory space on MD Anderson’s south campus.

“The institute is one of the most ambitious efforts that we're undertaking at MD Anderson,” chief scientific officer Giulio Draetta, MD, PhD, said. “It will truly be unique in its approach to drive therapeutic advances to save patients’ lives. Our vision is that this institute is a world leader in delivering immunotherapy solutions that go beyond the cancers that we’re treating today.”


  1. MD Anderson launches James P. Allison Institute to usher in new era for immunotherapy. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. News release. March 24, 2022. Accessed March 24, 2022. https://bit.ly/37YuBe5
  2. Sharma P, Hu-Lieskovan S, Wargo JA, Ribas A. Primary, adaptive, and acquired resistance to cancer immunotherapy. Cell. 2017;168(4):707-723. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.01.017
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