headshot of Yvonne J. Paterson, PhD
Yvonne J. Paterson, PhD

PHILADELPHIA — Yvonne J. Paterson, PhD, a professor of Microbiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has been elected a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Fellows are named inventors on U.S. patents. Election to fellow status recognizes academic inventors who have "demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society." She joins 174 other leaders of academic invention in election to fellow status in the 2016 class.

Paterson, a breast cancer survivor, works to harness the body's immune system to provide protection against, and find cures for, cancer. She has been issued 32 U.S. patents and numerous foreign patents; a further 12 possible U.S. patents are under review.

Among her achievements, she led the development and testing of a cancer vaccine that uses the common bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause food poisoning and other illnesses, to fight tumors. "Unfortunately, our immune system doesn't recognize cancer cells as invaders," Paterson said. "So the goal is to exploit the bacterium, which the body does recognize as abnormal, into provoking the type of immune response necessary for wiping out the cancer cells and keeping them from coming back."

Paterson genetically modifies listeria to smuggle in proteins that can rouse the immune system into action. (Genetic modification also reduces the bacterium's adverse symptoms in the patient.) She then uses the made-to-order listeria to mimic an infection in the cancer cells, prompting an immune response from the body that seeks to eradicate the contamination. In addition to destroying tumor cells, the hope is that the immunotherapy can prevent metastatic cells from developing and spreading the cancer elsewhere in the body.

The research has resulted in the formation of two US companies, one of which, Advaxis, is in phase 3 clinical trials for this immunotherapy for cervical cancer, as well as earlier-stage trials for several more forms of cancer. Other potential targets include lung, prostate, head and neck, anal, breast, and gastric cancers, as well as melanoma and lymphoma.

"In principle, this could be used against virtually any cancer," says Paterson. Additionally, in partnership with the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine, use of the therapy is generating positive results against bone cancer in dogs — adding as much as five years of extra, tumor-free living.

Paterson has published over 100 peer-reviewed scholarly papers and more than 60 book chapters and reviews. Her honors include recognition as "one of the 100-most inspiring people in the life sciences industry" by PharmaVOICE, while her company Advaxis has received awards from the World Vaccine Congress, Farrah Fawcett Foundation, and Sarcoma Foundation of America. Paterson is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Microbiology.

Born in the United Kingdom, she received her BSc and MSc in biochemistry from the University of Manchester, BA in mathematics and philosophy from Australian National University, and PhD in biochemistry from Melbourne University.

The National Academy of Inventors' 2016 fellows will be inducted on April 6, 2017, as part of the organization's sixth annual conference at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston, MA. U.S. Commissioner for Patents Andrew H. Hirshfeld will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony. In honor of their accomplishments, fellows will be presented with a trophy, medal, and rosette pin.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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