Nobel Prize Winner Dr James Allison on Meeting Patients Treated With Ipilimumab

October 24, 2018

As a basic scientist, James Allison, PhD, didn’t always meet the patients who benefitted from treatments he discovered, but he did meet 1 woman who participated in one of the early trials of ipilimumab.

As a basic scientist, James Allison, PhD, didn’t always meet the patients who benefitted from treatments he discovered, but he did meet 1 woman who participated in one of the early trials of ipilimumab.

What is it like meeting patients who have been treated with ipilimumab?

Well, as a scientist, all of my early work was with mice. And, of course, they don’t thank you for curing them. Of course, maybe, they shouldn’t because we gave them the cancer in the first place. For several years after the clinical trial started with ipilimumab, I was kind of distant from it; I just kind of saw it as numbers. Because my own family has had a lot of cancer, and I knew what it meant.

It wasn’t until I met the first patient that it really struck me. What had happened was this was a woman who was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma when she was 22, had just finished college, she was engaged, she was about to get married, and diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, so she had lung mats, cutaneous mats, etc, and was really bad off. She’d failed everything and went into one of the early trials of ipilimumab, and I met her when she was first declared tumor free. Doctors said, “the guy who invented this drug is here at Sloan Kettering, do you want to meet him?” And she said, “of course” and I went over, and it was the most emotional thing I’ve experienced, I’ve had, I think.

But then a few years later, 3 or 4 years later, she sent me a photo of her first baby, and a few years after that a photo of her second. She’s 14 years out now. She has this dynamic family and is doing fine and that to me, sort of, illustrates not only is the person saved, but her lineage is saved. For a basic scientist that’s about as good as it gets.