“I always consider myself a basic scientist, but not any more I suppose!”
Telephone interview with James P. Allison following the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1 October 2018. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
Transcript of the interview
James Allison: Hello.
Adam Smith: Hello. This is Adam Smith calling from Nobelprize.org, the website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm. Is this Professor Allison?
JA: Yes it is. Yes it is. Sorry you guys had so much trouble to get hold of me.
AS: Many, many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
JA: Oh, well thank you, thank you so much. It’s, as you might imagine, the dream of a lifetime. I don’t know what to say – I’m just stunned.
AS: How did the news actually reach you?
JA: Some reporter called round about 5:30 or so, from Sweden, and then my son called. Saw it on TV!
AS: Your son must be pretty happy too.
JA: Yep. It’s amazing. I’m still in shock. I don’t know what to say.
AS: It’s the first prize awarded specifically for a cancer therapy for many years, and that’s a nice hopeful thing for everybody, that it’s something to reward.
JA: Yes, I think that’s correct, yes. Really hopeful, getting it to work, to try to get everything to work better for patients.
AS: You didn’t actually set out to find a cure for cancer – this was basic research?
JA: No, no, no, I was trying to understand how T cells work. We figured out this one thing about this negative regulator. Had this idea that if we just took that off, you know, maybe it would do a better job of killing cancer cells, and sure enough it works!
AS: Yet again an example of not knowing which way research is going to take you?
JA: Yep, I always consider myself a basic scientist, but not any more I suppose!
AS: I have to say you do sound excited. It’s nice.
JA: Well speechless. It’s kind of sinking in.
AS: Yeah, yeah.
JA: [Inaudible] found out, came to their hotel room. I’m at an immunology conference in New York city.
AS: So people are joining you in your hotel room?
JA: Yes, yes.
AS: You’re assembling a party around you.
JA: Some people heard about it, been showing up, spontaneous celebration going on, a little champagne.
AS: That sounds pretty good. And I have to mention I’ve actually heard you playing the harmonica at an immunotherapy conference before.
JA: Oh really? With The Checkpoints, yeah.
AS: I do hope you plan to bring your harmonica to Stockholm when you come in December?
JA: I’ll bring it. [Laughs]. I don’t know if I’ll play but I’ll bring it.
AS: I was wondering whether I was brave enough to ask you to play on the telephone now.
JA: Oh I don’t have one with me now, I’m sorry.
AS: I think you should play, you’re good at it if I remember right.
JA: Oh, thank you.
AS: It’s a pleasure to speak to you, and we greatly look forward to welcoming you to Stockholm when you come.
JA: OK, well thank you so much.
AS: Congratulations again.
JA: Thanks, thank you so much.
AS: Bye bye.
JA: Bye bye.