“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.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.