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Penn cell therapy pioneer Dr. Carl June wins $1M prize

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Cell therapy pioneer Dr. Carl June was named the recipient of this year's $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for his groundbreaking work in developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.

The biennial award, given by Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health, recognizes "life-changing breakthroughs" and bringing emerging transformative medical innovations to patients. Sanford Health is the only health system in the country to award a $1 million prize for achievements in the medical sciences.

June is the director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center. He is also a professor of immunology in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.

“This is a well-deserved and exciting award for one of Penn’s most distinguished faculty members, whose pioneering research has reshaped the fight against cancer and brought fresh hope for both adults and children with the disease,” said Dr. J. Larry Jameson, Penn's executive vice president for its health system and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine.

“His contributions truly have been transformative for patients across the globe and taken the field of oncology in new and powerful directions.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, June and his lab discovered several basic scientific principles governing how the cells in the immune system work to fight cancer and infections. His lab next conducted the first clinical evaluations of gene-modified T cells, initially in people with HIV/AIDS and then in patients with advanced leukemia, using CAR T-cell therapy — an approach that retrains a patient’s own immune cells to attack cancer.

The research eventually led to the approval of 2017 of Kymriah — the first personalized cellular therapy for cancer. Kymriah is marketed by Novartis under a licensing deal with Penn.

June is not the first Penn Medicine faculty member to receive the prize since it was established three years ago.

Dr. Jean Bennett, a professor of ophthalmology in Penn's Perelman School, shared the inaugural award in 2018 with Dr. Katherine A. High, co-founder and former president of Spark Therapeutics, for their work developing the retinal disorder treatment Luxturna, the first gene therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration for an inherited disease.

(Via Philadelphia Business Journal)

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