Ludwig Cancer Research extends its warmest congratulations to Thierry Boon, former director of the Ludwig Brussels Branch, on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award today at the 4th Immunotherapy of Cancer Conference (ITOC) in Prague. The conference is organized jointly by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and the Cancer Drug Development Forum.
Thierry made fundamental discoveries that helped lay the foundations of the thriving field of cancer immunotherapy. Until the early 70’s, most researchers had little doubt that the immune system could detect and attack tumors. But a study published in 1976 suggested that spontaneous mammalian tumor cells were too similar to healthy cells of the body to provoke such responses. The paper put a damper on the field for many years.
Thierry, unperturbed by the growing consensus, pressed on with his exploration of anti-tumor immunity. First, he partnered with the author of the 1976 study to disprove its conclusion. Then, over the course of some 15 years, he and his fellow Ludwig Brussels researchers Benoît J. Van den Eynde and Pierre van der Bruggen, and their colleague Pierre G. Coulie, painstakingly isolated the genes for antigens that made spontaneous mouse tumors vulnerable to immune clearance. They then applied their methods to hunt down human tumor-specific antigens. This search culminated in the discovery, in the early 1990’s, of MAGE and several other MAGE-like antigens thereafter.
In a statement announcing the award, the ITOC called Thierry, “…one of the most renowned researchers in the field of anti-cancer vaccines.” We would add that he is also a valued colleague, a scientist’s scientist and a genuine Ludwig legend.