He has been called the “antibody hero,” and with good reason: After a decades-long quest to find a way to use the body’s immune system to develop antibodies against invading tumor cells, Dr. Ronald Levy helped develop and test the first FDA-approved antibody for the treatment of lymphoma. Rituximab entered the market in 1997 and proved successful in half of the patients to whom it was given, resulting in tumor regression with very few side effects. Rituximab is now used for every lymphoma patient either as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other therapies.
Dr. Levy’s interest in the immune system began early in his medical career and deepened during his work in Michael Feldman’s lab at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, at NIH with Steven Rosenberg, and again at Weizmann with Michael Sela. Both of his turns at Weizmann coincided with war, the first during the Six-Day War and the second during the Yom Kippur War. Despite the distractions, he managed to not only succeed in conducting groundbreaking research, but also to win the hand of his future wife, Shoshana, now also a researcher at Stanford. Dr. Levy remained convinced that the body’s own defenses could be used to fight cancer, even though cancer cells often fail to trigger internal defense mechanisms. Upon his return to Stanford, his work intensified after Kohler and Milstein produced the first hybridomas, which immortalized antibody-producing cells and ensured a steady stream of identical antibodies. However, many years of trial and error ensued before rituximab became the go-to drug for shrinking and controlling lymphoma tumors.
Dr. Levy is currently studying non-responding lymphoma cells that become more prevalent as patients undergo treatment, a cell subpopulation that he believes may constitute the tumor’s stem cell population. Levy’s ongoing research is aimed at targeting this population of cells to enhance remission success rates in lymphoma patients.
2016 Outstanding Investigator Award, National Cancer Institute
2009 King Faisal International Prize for Science, King Faisal Foundation
2008 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
2007 Elected Member, Institute of Medicine
2007 de Villiers International Achievement Award, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
2004 Dameshek Prize, American Society of Hematology
2003 Jeffrey A. Gottlieb Memorial Award, MD Anderson Cancer Center
2001 Evelyn Hoffman Memorial Award, Lymphoma Research Foundation of America
2000 C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
1999 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, ASCO
1999 Charles F. Kettering Prize, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation
1997 AACR-Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cancer Research
1989 Josef Steiner Cancer Research Foundation Award
1982 Armand Hammer Prize for Cancer Research
1968 M.D., Stanford University School of Medicine