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carl june
Carl June, MD

PHILADELPHIA—World renowned cancer cell therapy pioneer Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, received the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for his groundbreaking work in developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.

Sanford Health, the only health system in the country to award a $1 million prize for achievements in the medical sciences, announced the award on April 13 at a special ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The biennial award recognizes life-changing breakthroughs and bringing emerging transformative medical innovations to patients.

“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 J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the 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.”

Finalists for the award are determined through a rigorous selection process that uses machine learning to identify innovative areas of discovery and breakthrough science. The candidate selection is then focused on the areas with the most promising potential for patients. Two other finalists for this year’s Sanford Lorraine Cross Award were honored at the ceremony, including Mark Denison, MD, of Vanderbilt University who has studied coronaviruses since the 1980s, and Michael Welsh, MD, of the University of Iowa, a pulmonary physician.

“This was an amazing and accomplished group of finalists, so it’s an honor and a thrill to be receiving this award,” said June, who also serves as the director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Penn.

He is the second Penn Medicine faculty member to receive the prize since its establishment three years ago. In December 2018, Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, the F.M. Kirby Professor of Ophthalmology in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, and Katherine A. High, MD, president of Spark Therapeutics, received the inaugural Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for their cutting-edge work that led to the first gene therapy for an inherited disease.

June and his lab discovered several basic scientific principles in the 1980s and 1990s of how the cells in the immune system work to fight cancer and infections. His lab would go on to conduct the first clinical evaluation of gene-modified T cells, initially in people with HIV/AIDS and then in patients with advanced leukemia using CAR T cell therapy, the approach that retrains a patient’s own immune cells to attack cancer. The cellular therapy was awarded “Breakthrough Therapy” status by the FDA for acute leukemia in children and adults in 2014 and was approved as the first personalized cellular therapy for cancer, Kymriah, in 2017. It is now used to treat pediatric and adult blood cancer patients worldwide.

June, who has published more than 500 manuscripts, has received numerous prizes and honors, including election into the Institute of Medicine in 2012, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014, and the National Academy of Sciences in 2020, and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize. In 2017, he was named a fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy and received the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. He was most recently named a 2021 Dan David Prize Laureate.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—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 powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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