The story of one warmhearted, stubborn man’s visionary quest to find a cure for cancer, Jim Allison: Breakthrough is an homage to an unconventional superhero — a pioneering, harmonica-playing scientist who triumphed over a doubtful medical establishment to save innumerable lives around the world. In 2018, Jim Allison won the Nobel Prize for discovering the immune system’s role in defeating cancer, but his long journey to get there was filled with barriers and criticism.
With the help of narrator Woody Harrelson, director Bill Haney spotlights the perseverance of Allison starting with his days as a young, curious boy growing up in Texas whose life is shattered when he loses his mother to cancer. He grows into a headstrong, shaggy-haired, music-loving college student fascinated by immunotherapy, and he starts on a path to find a cure for the disease that so profoundly impacted his life. His research leads him to the discovery of the T-cell receptor, and its role in fighting cancer. Allison’s seminal discovery put him at odds with the entire medical community at the time, as he endured repeated setbacks, personal and professional, from a system not built to encourage breakthrough innovation.