The 2017 Warren Triennial Prize – the most prestigious research prize awarded by the MGH – was presented on April 5 to James P. Allison, PhD, professor and chairman of Immunology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in recognition of his leadership in the growing field of cancer immunology. This year’s Warren Triennial events were combined with the annual Celebration of Science (see box below) for what Executive Committee on Research (ECOR) chair and chief of Pathology David Louis, MD, described as an “extraordinary day of science.”

Allison’s fundamental investigations of the immune system laid the groundwork for what he described as “this crazy idea of treating cancer while ignoring the cancer cells.” His identification of the molecule CLTA-4 as an inhibitory checkpoint that suppresses the action of T cells led to the development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitors – drugs that circumvent the ability of cancer cells to hide from the immune system. While a clinical trial of the first of these drugs, ipilimumab, improved survival in patients with advanced melanoma, for a small group of patients treatment has extended survival to as long as 10 years.  Today’s challenges, he noted, include increasing the number of patients for whom immune checkpoint therapy is so successful and extending the approach to more types of cancer.

The Warren Triennial Prize was established to honor MGH founder Dr. John Collins Warren and is given every three years to scientific leaders whose work is expected to have a major impact on the future of medicine. Among the 73 recipients who have received the Warren prize since 1871, 23 have also received the Nobel Prize.

Also speaking at the Warren Symposium on Cancer Immunology, which was moderated by David Fisher, MD, PhD, vice chair of ECOR and chief of Dermatology, were Nir Hacohen, PhD, and Marcela Maus, MD, PhD, both of the MGH Cancer Center; Arlene Sharpe, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School; and Glenn Dranoff, MD, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. 

Celebration of Science honors research award winners

The annual Celebration of Science featured presentations by the winners of the hospital’s top awards to MGH investigators:

Daniel MacArthur, PhD, of the Department of Medicine and the Center for Genomic Medicine, received the Martin Prize for Clinical Research for a Nature paper describing a data set of the protein-coding genes of more than 60,700 individuals.

Alexander Soukas, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medicine and the Center for Genomic Medicine, received the Martin Prize for Fundamental Research for his Cell paper describing the mechanism by which the diabetes drug metformin also prevents and suppresses cancer growth.

Mario Suvà, MD, PhD, of the Department of Pathology and the Center for Cancer Research, received the Goodman Fellowship to support his investigation into genetic differences between types of brain tumors.

Also announced at the event were the 2017 MGH Research Scholars:

Galit Alter, PhD, Ragon Institute, Department of Medicine
Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine
Stephen Haggarty, PhD, Center for Genomic Medicine, Department of Neurology
David Langenau, PhD, MGH Cancer Center, Department of Pathology
Hakho Lee, PhD, Center for Systems Biology, Department of Radiology
Anders Naar, PhD, Center for Cancer Research, MGH Cancer Center
Richa Saxena, PhD, Center for Genomic Medicine, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine
Jennifer Temel, MD, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Department of Medicine

The program was founded in 2011 to provide five years of unrestricted funding through philanthropic support.

Read more articles from the 04/28/17 Hotline issue.