Dr. Padmanee Sharma was in a rush: On Sunday afternoon she had just finished giving her speech as the winner of the William B. Coley Award for outstanding research in tumor immunology, her cousin was in labor in Sharma’s New York City hotel room (long story), and Sharma’s husband, James Allison, was getting marching orders about where he had to be just in case the call came from Stockholm (It did! Allison had long been considered a favorite for the Nobel prize in medicine since soon after he discovered that blocking an immune cell “checkpoint” called CTLA-4 unleashed the power of the immune system to attack tumor cells).

But after her speech at the Fourth International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference, Sharma, professor of genitourinary medical oncology and immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and a pioneer in studying pre-surgical use of immune checkpoint therapies, sat down with STAT to discuss cancer immunotherapy, her biotech company, and why she’s actually quite fond of old white guys.

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