James M Olson, MD, PhD

James M Olson, MD, PhD


  • Academic Title: Professor
  • Research Title: Principal Investigator, Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research
  • Research Center: Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research
  • On Staff Since: July 1999
"My clinical goal has always been to help families and our oncology team make the best possible decisions at every point, so that each child’s opportunity to survive is maximized. Pediatric cancer patients treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital experience an approximately 10% higher survival rate than the national average. I'm in good company among the doctors and nurses who care for our patients. My initial laboratory career goal was to improve survival for one group of pediatric brain tumor patients by 10% through our laboratory efforts. We surpassed that goal by improving 5-year survival for Group 3 high-risk medulloblastoma patients by 20% and increasing survival of infants and toddlers with M0 medulloblasatoma by more than 80% (the rate was roughly 40% when I started at Children’s). Motivated by the kids I see in clinic each week, I have expanded my career goals: 1) Discover a drug that makes brain tumors “light up” so that surgeons can easily distinguish cancer from normal brain. Our candidate, Tumor Paint (or Tozuleristide), is currently in the final human clinical trial that could lead to FDA registration; 2) Discover a drug that instructs a child’s own immune cells to kill cancer cells without chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Our first candidate completely eliminated pediatric acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) cells in laboratory models and led to 80-100% survival in multiple models. This investigational drug candidate is advancing toward human clinical trials. 3) Build the platforms that lead to at least two other therapeutic candidates that reach human clinical trials. We could not have accomplished the above without a deep and lasting partnership with the families and communities of pediatric brain tumor patients who were treated at Seattle Children’s."
  • Biography

    James M. Olson, MD, PhD, is program director for the Invent at Seattle Children's Postdoctoral Scholars Program, a principal investigator in the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, and a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.  He co-founded three biotechnology companies: Presage Biosciences, Blaze Bioscience, and Link Immunotherapeutics.

    Dr. Olson has mentored more than 30 graduate students and postdoctoral research fellows. He chaired a national phase III clinical trial for high-risk medulloblastoma patients that led to a 20% improvement in five-year survival for Group 3 patients. Dr. Olson is the principal investigator on multiple projects that focus on developing effective new therapies for pediatric brain tumors; methods that allow surgeons to better visualize the border of brain cancer and normal brain (“Tumor Paint," or Tozuleristide); and the discovery of immunotherapeutics for pediatric AML, neuroblastoma, and other cancers.


    Board Certification(s)



    University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI


    University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA


    University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA

    Research Description

    In the past decade, Dr. Olson recruited scientists from biotech to join his lab and build a protein therapeutics platform. Together, these scientists contributed to seven FDA-approved drugs and 28 drug candidates that reached human clinical trials. The team has since built a series of powerful drug discovery platforms, primarily focused on a class of mid-sized medicines called cystine-dense peptides (CDPs, or knottins) and bispecific antibodies.


    We discovered and engineered CDPs to 1) deliver drugs into the brain, across the blood brain barrier, by binding to transferrin receptor; 2) block the oncogenic YAP:TEAD interaction; and 3) bind and block a key immune checkpoint protein. Current efforts focus on 1) determining whether certain CDPs can be used to degrade proteins that are necessary for cancer cell survival; 2) discovering drug candidates that block chronic inflammation in the brain following radiation therapy, which leads to cognitive and other deficits; and 3) discovering CDP-based therapeutics that help the immune system recognize and kill brain tumor cells.


    Our bispecific antibody programs are currently focused on a subset of pediatric acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and neuroblastoma. We also have programs that focus on some underserved adult cancers, such as ovarian cancer. 


    Research Focus Area

    Cancer, Novel Therapeutics, Refractory and recurrent cancer, Sarcomas, Thyroid Cancer

  • Related Resources

    • The Olson Lab

      The Olson Lab’s current work focuses on discovering novel therapeutics for pediatric cancers and, more broadly, on discovering protein/peptide therapeutics for a wide range of pediatric diseases.

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