Big Ideas Attract Big Investment

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since Penn Medicine announced its breakthrough results in using immu­notherapy to fight cancer. Not only have many patients con­tinued to enjoy sustained remissions, but Penn Medicine’s ef­forts also are enjoying increasing national and international attention – with a particularly stunning development that un­folded in April of this year.

Backed by the Parker Foundation – founded by entrepre­neur and philanthropist Sean Parker – Penn joined a first-of-its-kind research collaboration focused on using immunother­apy to fight cancer. Uniting six of the nation’s top medical schools and cancer centers, the Parker Institutes for Cancer Immunotherapy are backed by a $250 million gift from the Foundation, making it the largest single contribution ever made to the field of immunotherapy.

Total funding of $36 million has been awarded for the Parker Institute at Penn, which will be under the direction of Carl June, M.D., the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immu­notherapy and director of translational research in the Abramson Cancer Center. Robert Vonderheide, M.D., D.Phil., the Hanna Wise Professor in Cancer Research and associate director of translational research in the Abramson Cancer Center, and E. John Wherry, Ph.D., the Richard and Barbara Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor and director of Penn’s Institute for Immunology, will serve as co-directors.

“We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique poten­tial to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives,” said Sean Parker, president of The Parker Foundation. “We believe that the creation of a new funding and research model can overcome many of the obstacles that currently prevent research breakthroughs.”  

Celebrating the Future Scientists Who Keep Those Big Ideas Coming

The excitement of these fast-paced developments underscores the reality that the science of medicine has never been more complex or more essential. The passage of health care reform legislation emphasizes the critical need for a steady pipeline of physicians to ensure the safeguarding of our nation’s health. 

The important value of training the next generation of medical scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine is something that alumnus Michael S. Brown, C ’62, M.D., ’66, HON ’86, appreciates quite well. A Nobel laureate, Brown described the regulation of cholesterol metabolism, which paved the way for life-saving statins. It’s those combined in­sights into biomedical research and clinical practice that will similarly help lead to the next breakthroughs in care – and Dr. Brown has chosen to celebrate the best and brightest who have pursued this challenging educational path.

The endowed Michael S. Brown, M.D., Award recognizes a graduating student from Penn’s renowned M.D./Ph.D. pro­gram who shows the greatest potential for a career as a phy­sician-scientist in medicine or pediatrics. Benefiting from an integrated program that features the best medical training in traditional areas of laboratory research – as well as in bio­medical engineering, health care economics, anthropology, and history of science – the Brown Award recipient joins the program’s more than 500 alumni, including successes like Adam Koppel, M.D. ’95, Ph.D. ’97, M.B.A. ‘00, Managing Director of Bain Capital Life Sciences. The Award was pre­sented for the first time at May’s com­mencement to Ste­ven Joseph Siegel, M.D., Ph.D., who has joined the Boston Combined Residency Program for Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center.

“I am proud that Dr. Brown joins us in honoring our M.D./Ph.D. graduates who will continue to redefine the model of scientific discovery and patient care, and I am certain his outstanding example will resonate with fellow alumni,” said Dean J. Larry Jameson, M.D., Ph.D. – a fellow physician-scientist.


Dean Jameson and his wife, Michele (not pictured), welcomed first-year students during a barbeque at their home in early June.

Shaping a Medical School that Mirrors the Rich Diversity of the World

Five Anchor Programs Build the Diversity Pipeline:

 • Alliance of Minority Physicians. FACULTY LEAD: 
 • Center of Excellence for Diversity in Health Education and Research. FACULTY LEAD: JERRY C. JOHNSON, M.D.
 • FOCUS on Health & Leadership for Women. FACULTY LEAD: STEPHANIE ABBUHL, M.D.
 • Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health.  FACULTY LEADS: REBECCA HIRSH, M.D.,  AND JUDD D. FLESCH, M.D.
 • Center for the Study of Sex and Gender in Behavioral Health. FACULTY LEADS: C. NEILL EPPERSON, M.D., AND TRACEY L. BALE, Ph.D.

Just as a Perelman School education must reflect the constantly evolving nature of research and care, so too does the School need to ensure that the strength of its faculty and student body is derived from a diverse and inclusive environment. As Benja­min Garcia, Ph.D., the Presidential Associate Professor of Bio­chemistry and Biophysics, noted, “When my basic science lab has been at its most diverse, it has also been the most creative. And we’re getting into human health more than I ever thought we could, with more translational aspects to our work.”

Penn Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity was es­tablished in 2013 to foster just that kind of diverse and collab­orative environment. Under the leadership of Vice Dean Eve J. Higginbotham, S.M., M.D., the office is charged with explor­ing new opportunities to embrace diversity and broaden ac­cess to people of all ethnicities, historical traditions and reli­gions, economic backgrounds, genders and sexual orienta­tions, disabilities, and veteran status.

The office leverages the work of a number of groups, con­tributes to faculty recruitment efforts for Presidential Profes­sorships, fosters scholarships and presentations at national meetings, and provides skills training to compete for grants focusing on health disparities.

“In terms of our student body, the number of students com­ing from groups underrepresented in medicine is encouraging and represents a peak at least in the last three years,” ex­plained Vice Dean Higginbotham. 

“There are many ways we can become even stronger, such as in enhancing awareness and diversity in terms of cultural competency,” she concluded, “and I’m excited to work with our philanthropic partners to advance our mission – whether it’s through supporting Presidential Professorships, our an­chor programs, or student scholarships.  


Opening of School Year is a Family Affair

On August 12th, America’s oldest medical school welcomed its newest class of future doctors with “Parents & Partners,” an event which invites families to witness a day in the lives of their medical students. They toured the Henry A. Jordan, M ’62 Medical Education Center and watched presentations from Penn faculty on state-of-the-art medical simulation technology, the practice of Standardized Patients, and showcasing how Perelman students work in learning teams.

The day was capped off with the White Coat ceremony and recitation of the Hippocratic oath. And this year, a new “wrinkle” was added: alumni donors and parents penned messages of advice or encouragement for incoming students to be placed in the pockets of the white coats prior to the ceremony.  

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