Suzanne Louise Topalian, M.D.

Headshot of Suzanne Louise Topalian
  • Director, Johns Hopkins Melanoma/Skin Cancer Program
  • Professor of Surgery

Languages: English, French


Immunotherapy, Melanoma, Skin Cancer, Surgical Oncology more

Research Interests

Immune Checkpoint Blockade; Immunotherapy Drug Development; Biomarker Discovery more


Dr. Topalian is a physician-scientist whose studies of anti-tumor immunity have been foundational in developing cancer immunotherapy. She has published over 160 original research articles and reviews in this area and is  one of the most highly cited researchers in the biomedical field. She received her medical and scientific training at Tufts University School of Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Cancer Institute. She joined the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in 2006 as the inaugural director of its Melanoma Program.

Dr. Topalian is credited with advancing the clinical development of anti-PD-1 immunotherapy, and her work is widely recognized. She was named one of Nature’s 10 in 2014, and received the Karnofsky Award from ASCO in 2015, the Taubman Prize in 2016, the NCI’s Rosalind E. Franklin Award in 2018, the American Academy of Dermatology’s Gruber Memorial Cancer Research Award in 2020, and the Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences from the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2021 for landmark discoveries in cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Topalian was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2017, and to the American Association for Cancer Research Academy in 2022. Her work has opened new avenues of scientific investigation and established immunotherapy as a pillar of oncology. more


  • Director, Johns Hopkins Melanoma/Skin Cancer Program
  • Associate Director, Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
  • Bloomberg-Kimmel Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy
  • Professor of Surgery
  • Professor of Oncology

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • MD; Tufts University School of Medicine (1979)


  • General Surgery; Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University (1985)


  • Surgical Oncology; National Institutes of Health-NIH (1989)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Topalian’s basic studies of human anti-tumor immunity response have provided a framework for developing immunotherapies for melanoma and other cancers, including cancer vaccines, adoptive T cell transfer, and immune-modulating monoclonal antibodies. Her early work established that cytolytic “killer” T lymphocytes in melanoma patients could specifically recognize cancer cells from the same patient. Later studies confirmed the existence of “shared” melanoma antigens (proteins) across tumors from different patients, paving the way for the development of melanoma vaccines. Her seminal investigations into the role of CD4+ T “helper” cells in human anti-tumor immunity revealed the existence of tumor-specific CD4+ T cells in patients with melanoma and other cancers. Dr. Topalian’s current research focuses on manipulating “immune checkpoints” such as PD-1 in cancer therapy, discovering biomarkers predicting response and resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy, and developing new strategies such as neoadjuvant (pre-surgical) anti-PD-1 administration and effective treatment combinations.

Clinical Trial Keywords

Anti-PD-1; anti-PD-L1; Immunotherapy; Biomarker; Neoadjuvant.

Selected Publications

View all on PubMed

Brahmer JR, Drake CG, Wollner I, Powderly J, Picus J, Sharfman W, Stankevich E, Pons A, Salay TM, McMiller TL, Gilson MM, Wang C, Selby M, Taube JM, Anders R, Chen L, Korman AJ, Pardoll DM, Lowy I, and Topalian SL. Phase I study of single-agent anti-programmed death-1 (MDX-1106) in refractory solid tumors: Safety, clinical activity, pharmacodynamics and immunologic correlates. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:3167-75

Taube JM, Anders RA, Young GD, Xu H, Sharma R, McMiller TL, Chen S, Klein AP, Pardoll DM, Topalian SL, Chen L. Co-localization of inflammatory response with B7-H1 expression in human melanocytic lesions supports an adaptive resistance mechanism of immune escape. Science Transl Med 2012; 4:127ra37

Topalian SL, Hodi FS, Brahmer JR, Gettinger SN, Smith DC, McDermott DF, Powderly JD, Carvajal RD, Sosman JA, Atkins MB, Leming PD, Spigel DR, Antonia SJ, Horn L, Drake CG, Pardoll DM, Chen L, Sharfman WH, Anders RA, Taube JM, McMiller TL, Xu H, Korman AJ, Jure-Kunkel M, Agrawal S, McDonald D, Kollia GD, Gupta A, Wigginton JM, Sznol M. Safety, activity and immune correlates of anti-PD-1 antibody in cancer. N Engl J Med 2012; 366:2443-54

Nghiem P, Bhatia S, Lipson EJ, Sharfman WH, Kudchadkar RR, Brohl AS, Friedlander PA, Daud A, Kluger HM, Reddy SA, Boulmay BC, Riker A, Burgess MA, Hanks BA, Olencki T, Margolin K, Lundgren LM, Soni A, Ramchurren N, Church C, Park SY, Shinohara MM, Salim B, Taube JM, Bird SR, Ibrahim N, Fling SP, Moreno BH, Sharon E, Cheever MA, Topalian SL. Durable tumor regression and overall survival in patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma receiving pembrolizumab as first-line therapy. J Clin Oncol 2019; 37:693-702

Topalian SL, Taube JM, Pardoll DM. Neoadjuvant checkpoint blockade for cancer immunotherapy. Science 367, eaax0182 (2020). DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0182

Contact for Research Inquiries

David H. Koch Cancer Research Building
1550 Orleans Street
Suite 508
Baltimore, MD 21231 map
Phone: 410-502-8218
Fax: 410-502-1958

Email me

Activities & Honors


  • Nature’s 10, 2014
  • Karnofsky Award, ASCO, 2015
  • Taubman Prize, 2016
  • Member, National Academy of Medicine, 2017
  • Rosalind E. Franklin Award, NCI, 2018
  • Gruber Memorial Cancer Research Award, American Academy of Dermatology, 2020
  • Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences, AAMC, 2021
  • Fellow, American Association for Cancer Research Academy, 2022
  • Fellow, Academy of Immuno-Oncology


  • American Association for Cancer Research;
  • American Association of Clinical Oncology;
  • Society for Melanoma Research;
  • Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer
  • American Association of Physicians

Professional Activities

  • Board of Directors, Melanoma Research Alliance, 2014
  • Board of Directors, AACR, 2020 - 2023

Videos & Media

Recent News Articles and Media Coverage

Breaking the Wall of Cancer’s Defense, Falling Walls Foundation (January 20, 2015)

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