Dr. Freeman grew up in Fort Worth, Texas where he was introduced to scientific research in his high school’s research lab and an NSF summer program at the University of Texas, Austin. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard, doing structural work in Don Wiley’s lab. He then did his PhD work with Alice Huang at Harvard Medical School on animal virus genetics. He did post-doctoral work on genes regulating T cell activation, first with Harvey Cantor and then Lee Nadler at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He was appointed Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1994 and Professor in 2015.
Freeman’s research has identified the ligands for the major pathways that control the immune response by inhibiting T cell activation (PD-L1 or PD-L2/PD-1 and B7-2/CTLA-4) or stimulating T cell activation (B7-2/CD28). He showed that engagement of PD-1 by PD-L1 or PD-L2 inhibited T cell activation, cytokine production, and cytolytic activity whereas blockade enhanced these activities. This has led to a successful strategy for cancer immunotherapy: block the pathways that tumors use to turn off the immune response.
Dr. Freeman’s laboratory focuses on the identification and function of T cell costimulatory and coinhibitory pathways in regulating T cell activation and application of this knowledge to the development of more effective immunotherapies for cancer, infections, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. Dr. Freeman has published over 300 scientific papers and holds over 50 US patents on immunotherapies. He was listed by Thomas Reuters as a 2016 Citation Laureate for contributions to the field of Physiology or Medicine. He received the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor Immunology in 2014 and the Laguna Biotech CEO Forum award for his contributions to the discovery of the PD-1 pathway. His contributions to the development of PD-1 immunotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma received the Lymphoma Hub award for best research paper in lymphoma in 2014.