News Release
Awardees Carl H. June, MD, M. Celeste Simon, PhD, Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD, and E. John Wherry, PhD.

PHILADELPHIA –  Four distinguished researchers from the Abramson Cancer Center and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will receive 2023 Scientific Achievement Awards from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest cancer research organization. The awards, including the 2023 AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research to Carl H. June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, will be presented during the AACR Annual Meeting 2023, from April 14-19 in Orlando, Florida.

M. Celeste Simon, PhD, the Arthur H. Rubenstein, MBBCh Professor in Cell and Developmental Biology, is the recipient of the AACR-G.H.A. Clowes Award for Outstanding Basic Cancer Research. Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD, a professor and the vice chair of Cancer Biology, will receive the AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Basic Cancer Research. E. John Wherry, PhD, the chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, will receive the AACR-Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology.

“We are thrilled to see so many researchers from Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center recognized by AACR for the incredible impacts that they’ve made across the spectrum of basic, translational and clinical cancer research,” said Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, the Pearl Basser Professor for BRCA-Related Research, deputy director of the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), and head of the ACC Awards Committee. “Carl, Celeste, Katy, and John have spent decades pushing boundaries to change our understanding of cancer, and their dedication has led to life-changing discoveries for patients and their families. Their awards are a testament to the caliber of cancer research taking place every day at Penn Medicine.”

Carl H. June, MD, Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established in 2004 to honor individuals who have made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research, with a lasting impact on the field, and demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer. June is recognized as a CAR T cell therapy pioneer, whose groundbreaking work to create the first gene-edited cell therapy for cancer led to the first approved CAR T cell therapy in 2017, bringing hope and an effective new treatment to many patients who had run out of options. His team demonstrated that T cell therapy can induce long-lasting remissions, and even cures, with some of the earliest patients treated surviving 10 years or more. A total of six CAR T cell therapies are now approved to treat five different blood cancers, and research in the field has grown exponentially, with hundreds of CART T cell clinical trials in progress worldwide. As the director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies (CCI) and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, June continues to drive innovation in personalized cell and gene based therapies for patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

June will give an award lecture on Sunday, April 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET in Valencia D - Convention Center.

M. Celeste Simon, PhD, Clowes Award for Outstanding Basic Cancer Research

The AACR-G.H.A. Clowes Award for Outstanding Basic Cancer Research was established in 1961 to honor George H. A. Clowes, PhD, who was a founding member of the AACR. This award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding recent accomplishments in basic cancer research. Simon is honored for her groundbreaking work and recent discoveries on oxygen biology and cancer metabolism. Her research focuses on cancer hypoxia, or how cells sense and respond to the lack of oxygen and nutrients, caused by a tumor rapidly outgrowing its blood supply. Her recent research includes a novel approach to treat liver cancer by targeting “senescent” cells that no longer divide in the tumor microenvironment, new renal cancer targets based on tumor metabolism, and a method to turn on a key metabolic processes in soft-tissue sarcomas that could leave them susceptible to treatment. Simon’s work also contributed to building the scientific rationale for what would become the HIF-2alpha inhibitor belzutifan, which was approved in 2021 for certain types von Hippel Lindau (VHL) disease-associated tumors. She serves as the scientific director for the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute and associate director of shared resources for the ACC.

Simon will give an award lecture on Sunday, April 16 at 3 p.m. ET in Room W311 E-H - Convention Center.

Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD, Outstanding Achievement in Basic Cancer Research

The AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Basic Cancer Research honors an early-career investigator for meritorious achievements in basic cancer research. A member of the ACC Cancer Therapeutics Research Program, Wellen is recognized for her research establishing new paradigms in the understanding of cancer cell metabolism. The chemical reactions that change food into energy function very differently in cancer cells compared to healthy cells, and these metabolic processes are a driving force behind cancer growth. Wellen’s work has shed light on how cancer cell metabolism works at a molecular level, and shown how cellular metabolism is connected to gene regulation. Many of her discoveries have opened new fields of study involving the mechanisms of crosstalk between metabolic pathways, signaling networks, and the epigenome. Building on recent findings, Wellen’s lab is also investigating how diet and nutrition play impact tumor growth. 

Wellen will give an award lecture on Monday, April 17 at 5:15 p.m. ET in Room W312 - Convention Center.

E. John Wherry, PhD, Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology

The AACR-Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology honors an active scientist whose outstanding and innovative research has had a major impact on the cancer field and has the potential to stimulate new directions in cancer immunology. Wherry the co-leader of the ACC’s Immunobiology Program and is internally recognized for his groundbreaking achievements in basic, translational, and clinical immunology that have influenced and changed the field’s understanding of cancer immunobiology and immunotherapy. His work defined the concept of T cell exhaustion, a hallmark of the biology of cancer and chronic infections, and found that exhausted T cells are a key target of PD-1 checkpoint blockade in cancer. These discoveries have provided insight into which patients will most likely respond to cancer immunotherapy. Wherry serves as the director of the Institute for Immunology and founding director of the Immune Health® project at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, where he is leading efforts to define and monitor individual “immune health” fingerprints that can provide insight for interception, diagnosis, and treatment for cancer and other diseases. These efforts were recently applied to COVID-19 patients, including those with cancer, revealing distinct patient immunotypes that are related to outcomes and therapeutic opportunities.

Wherry will give an award lecture on Monday, April 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET in Tangerine Ballroom 2 (WF2) - Convention Center.


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.

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

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