Immunologist Jan de Vries studied at the University of Utrecht and graduated with a PhD in immunology from the University of Amsterdam. After two years as a Visiting Scientist in the laboratory of John Mendelsohn at the University of California, San Diego, he was appointed Chairman of the Department of Immunology of the National Cancer Research Institute in Amsterdam in 1979.
He was one of the first to describe that T lymphocytes from melanoma patients could destroy their own tumor cells in vitro – in cell culture. These groundbreaking observations opened the search for tumor-selective antigens that could be recognized by the immune system and formed the basis for various clinical tumor vaccination trials to treat specific cancers. In 1985, Jan de Vries accepted the position of director of a biotechnology company in Lyon, France, which was a subsidiary of the U.S. pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, where he first developed an interest in the role of cytokines – which are important messengers in cell communication – in the immune response.
He continued this work after moving with his research team in 1988 to the Palo Alto, California, biotechnology company DNAX, founded by Nobel laureates Paul Berg and Arthur Kornberg. Jan de Vries was the driving force behind the team that cloned the cytokines interleukin (IL) 4, 10 and 13 and determined their biological functions. In a series of groundbreaking publications, he demonstrated that IL-4 and IL-13 are the major triggers of allergic diseases such as asthma, rhinitis and atopic dermatitis. These observations were the basis for very broad research and screening programs to explore compounds that would block the function of these cytokines and interfere with their signaling chains. In 1997, Jan de Vries joined Novartis; initially as Global Head of Disease Area Dermatology combined with the management of the Vienna Novartis Research Institute.
In 2003, he was appointed Global Head of the Disease Area Auto-Immunity and Transplantation with research activities in Vienna and Basel. Jan de Vries is the author of more than 300 scientific publications and reviews in the most prestigious journals. Furthermore, his numerous discoveries have led to 20 patents.