A physician-scientist who developed a personalized immunotherapy for leukemia using patients' own T cells is the recipient of the 2014 Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science, awarded by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Carl June, M.D. of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will receive the $100,000 prize in recognition of the treatment he designed that is credited as the first successful and sustained demonstration of the use of gene transfer therapy to turn the body's own immune cells into weapons aimed at cancerous tumors.
The research is considered a landmark breakthrough in treating blood cancers that have stopped responding to conventional therapies, or for patients who are not candidates for bone marrow transplants, which carry a high mortality risk.
"Dr. June's visionary approach has transformed the scientific approach to these cancers and brought hope to patients who had little or none," said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute. "We are honored to recognize his extraordinary contributions by awarding him the Taubman Prize."
June was selected by a national panel of eminent medical science experts from among dozens of nominees for the Taubman Prize. His groundbreaking work has demonstrated that T cells, modified in the lab to carry an antibody-like protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), can be infused back into a patient's bloodstream, where the new "hunter" cells seek and attack the cancer cells. These special T cells also include a signaling domain that help them replicate, which enlarges the "army" of cells available to fight the cancer.
The results of the first three patients to be part of a clinical trial of this immunotherapy were published in 2011. Updated results on the first 59 trial patients presented in December 2013 found that about half of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia responded to the therapy, and nearly 90 percent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – including both children and adults – went into remission after receiving the therapy.
June, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, will present the keynote address at the Taubman Institute's annual symposium on Oct. 10, 2014, at the Kahn Auditorium on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus. The symposium is open to the general public.
Mr. A. Alfred Taubman, founder and chair of the Taubman Institute, will present the prize.
"Translating medical research into actual treatments and cures is the work that the Taubman Institute was created to promote and reward," said Taubman. "There is no finer example today than what Dr. June has done for leukemia patients, and we are delighted to recognize his amazing accomplishments."
The Taubman Prize was established in 2012 to recognize outstanding translational medical research beyond the University of Michigan. It includes a $100,000 award and is presented each year to the non-U-M clinician-scientist who has done the most to transform laboratory discoveries into clinical applications for patients suffering from disease.
Previous recipients are:
2013: Brian Druker, M.D. of the Oregon Health & Science University and Charles Sawyers, M.D. of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for their discoveries related to chronic myeloid leukemia.
2012: Hal Dietz, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University for his discoveries related to connective tissue disease.
University of Michigan Health System