Ronald Levy was born on December 6, 1941, in Carmel, California (USA). He received his bachelor’s degree (A.B.) from Harvard University (1963) and M.D. from Stanford University (1968) and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (1968-1970). He also served for two years as a clinical associate at the Immunology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, followed by one year fellowship at Stanford and two years at the Weismann Institute of Science (1973-1975). He joined the Faculty of the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1975 and is currently the Robert K. and Helen K. Summy Professor, Frank and Else Schilling American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor and Chief of the Oncology Division in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University.
Professor Levy’s exceptional contributions were instrumental in establishing the role of monoclonal antibodies in the treatment of B-cell lymphomas. Over the past 30 years, he discovered that it was possible to generate antibodies that would recognize specific receptors on these cancer cells and tag them for destruction; he conceived the idea of using these antibodies as molecular targeted drugs to kill the tumor cells and saw his idea move all the way to an FDA approved drug, Rituxan, now treating each year half a million people with B-cell lymphoma. He also developed and worked on the idea of a customized vaccine based on the patient’s own tumor cells and is using state-of-the art genomic technologies to evaluate genetic signatures that would allow prediction of a response to treatment.
In addition to King Faisal International Prize for Medicine, Professor Levy, or the “antibody hero” as he is sometimes nick-named, received numerous awards and honors, including nearly every major award in cancer research, as well as fellowships and memberships of learned societies and an impressive list of invited lectureships and Scientific Advisory positions. He published more than 150 papers in premier medical journals and served as a visiting professor at the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the universities of Texas Southwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska and Miami.
Professor Ronald Levy, has been awarded the prize, in recognition for his pioneering studies in Cancer Immunotherapy. Almost 30 years ago he developed antibodies that could distinguish between malignant and benign tumor cells. This created a tool for diagnosis and therapy. He showed in 1980 that monoclonal antibodies against a tumor-associated antigen could be employed to treat patients with B cell lymphoma. Many of these patients responded well to the treatment. Professor Levy generated a humanized monoclonal antibody against a specific protein expressed on B cell. In the last 11 years the drug he discovered has been used to treat a large number of lymphoma patients with remarkable remission and survival results.
In his more recent work professor Levy has used the patient’s immune system to mount immune responses against the patient’s own cancer cells. The ability of a patient to elicit immune responses against his/her own tumor cells by vaccinating the patient against the malignancy is likely to become a more effective way for longer lasting and more efficient therapy.