I Just completed this illustration for an article entitled Jim Allison's Long and Winding Road which will appear in the upcoming issue of UC Berkeley's California Magazine.
To cut a long, and extremely scientific story short, the aforementioned Mr Allison, the subject of both article and illustration, discovered a protein called CTLA-4 in his Berkeley lab way back in 1993. This protein attaches to T cells and acts as a brake for the immune systems, something that seemed to be of little interest to the majority of the scientific community at the time. But because he is a very smart man Jim understood the significance of this discovery, and went on to develop an antibody to the protein – a drug to block its action. His theory being that if the new drug did its job, it would free up the immune system to identify and attack cancerous cells, even those that have resisted chemotherapy.
Unfortunately for Jim this new drug then had to enter clinical trials - which went on and on and on and...well you get the picture. The good news is that after 15 years and clinical trials involving 6,500 patients the drug is finally available to treat melanoma. And it offers a completely different approach to cancer treatment that has been proving extremely effective.
All which makes for a fascinating tale, but was bit tricky to translate into in an interesting illustrated portrait. Luckily for me there was a 'human angle'. Because as well as being a scientific super-hero, Jim was also a South Texan, harmonica playing, country music aficionado.
And so the Cancer Immunotherapy Clinical Trial Blues was born.