Lieping Chen, MD, PhD

United Technologies Corporation Professor in Cancer Research and Professor of Immunobiology, of Dermatology and of Medicine (Medical Oncology); Co-Director, Cancer Immunology Program at Yale Cancer Center

Departments & Organizations

Immunobiology: Chen Lab | HTI

Medical Oncology

Rheumatic Diseases Research Core

Rheumatology, Allergy, & Clinical Immunology

Yale Cancer Center: Cancer Immunology | SPORE in Lung Cancer

Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS): Immunology

Office of Cooperative Research


Before joining Yale in 2010, Dr. Chen was a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and at Mayo Clinic. He was also a research scientist in Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.

Lieping Chen studies lymphocyte costimulation and coinhibition and their application in treating human diseases, including cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Published in 1992, Dr. Chen pioneered the first proof-of-concept study showing that manipulation of the B7-CD28/CTLA-4 family molecules could be used for cancer immunotherapy by introducing B7-1 into tumor cells to enhance tumor immunity. This study inspires subsequent studies targeting this pathway for the treatment of human cancer.

Dr. Chen’s study established the foundation for the anti-PD-1/PD-L1 therapy for human cancer with contributions in both basic and translational research. In basic research, his laboratory co-discovered the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway and elucidated its functions. These findings include discovery of B7-H1 (PD-L1) molecule; its immune suppressive function as well as normal physiological functions. In translational research, his studies have singularly established the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway as target for cancer immunotherapy. These discoveries include demonstration of highly selective and over expression of PD-L1 in tumor microenvironment and its role in suppression of T cell response; discovery of interferon-gamma as a major regulator of PD-L1 expression as well as development of adaptive resistance hypothesis. These studies made the first link of the PD-L1/PD-1 pathway to cancer. He also initiated and helped organize the first-in-man clinical trial of antibody blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway for treating human cancer in 2006 (fully human monoclonal antibodies, Nivolumab, made by Medarex, now acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb) and developed PD-L1 staining as a biomarker to predict treatment outcome. His discoveries directly led to the development of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibody therapy against broad spectrum of human cancers, especially solid tumors (first approved by FDA in 2014 and it has shown to be effective in at least 25 different types of human cancers). Dr. Chen’s studies have revolutionized current cancer treatment.

Dr. Chen’s laboratory also discovered multiple costimulatory and coinhibitory pathways, their immunological functions and applications in human disease treatment. These pathways include 4-1BB, ICOS/B7-H2, B7-H3, B7-H4, B7-H5/CD28H, PD-1H, LIGHT/HVEM, TROY, B7-H2/CD28/CTLA-4 (human), SALM5/HVEM. Among them, Dr. Chen’s laboratory discovered the anti-tumor effect of agonist 4-1BB antibody and elucidated the mechanisms of action. These discoveries have led to the development of therapeutic agonist anti-4-1BB antibody (cancer), anti-B7-H3 antibody (cancer) anti-B7-H4 antibody (cancer) and B7-H4Ig fusion protein (autoimmune diseases) which are currently in clinical trials.

Dr. Chen's work in the discovery of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway in cancer therapy was cited as the #1 breakthrough of the years by Science magazine in 2013. He has received several awards and professional recognition, including the William B. Coley Award (2014) and the AAI-Steinman Award (2016).

Education & Training

PhD Drexel University (1989)
MS Beijing Union Medical College, Beijing, China, Immunology (1986)
MD Fujian Medical College (1982)
Postdoctoral fellow University of Washington
Fellow Beijing Union Medical College
Intern and Resident Fujian Union Hospital

Honors & Recognition

  • SCBA Presidential AwardSociety of Chinese Bioscientists in America (2017)

  • Warren Alpert Foundation PrizeWarren Alpert Foundation/Harvard Medical School (2017)

  • Biomedical Sciences AwardBoao Forum Asia in Biomedical Sciences (2017)

  • Shizhang Bei International AwardThe Biophysical Society of China (2017)

  • CAST-US Innovation AwardChinese Association for Science and Technology USA (2016)

  • AAI-Steinman AwardAmerican Association of Immunologists (2016)

  • CAHON-Lifetime Achievement AwardCAHON (2015)

  • William B. Coley AwardCancer Research Institute (2014)

  • Inaugural United Technologies Corporation Endowed Chair ProfessorYale University (2013)

  • Honorary Master of ArtsYale University (2012)

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