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    2015 Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences

    Carl H. June, MD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

    The remarkable discoveries of Carl H. June, MD, have brought biomedical research to the doorstep of cures for immunology diseases such as cancer and HIV, with promise of crossing the threshold.

    When Dr. June began his career in the 1970s, science had already demonstrated T-cell infusion, known as adoptive cell transfer, as effective therapy for chronic viral infections and cancer in animal models. Dr. June, the Richard W. Vague Professor of Immunotherapy at the Perelman School of Medicine, dedicated his career to proving the concept in humans.

    In the 1980s, Dr. June made his first breakthrough, discovering the CD28 molecule as the major control switch for T cells. In the following decade, he tested the ability to culture genetically modified chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells in humans, discovering the cells could engraft and persist in patients with HIV/AIDS for years.

    In 2010, Dr. June tested adoptive cell transfer in patients with lymphocytic leukemia. The June lab engineered the patients’ own T cells, creating homing missiles to seek and destroy cancer cells. Today, two of the first three patients to receive the treatment remain disease-free, and more than 100 patients have received the therapy.

    The June lab also conducted adoptive cell transfer as therapy for HIV and successfully modified T cells to be permanently resistant to infection by the HIV-1 virus.

    The unprecedented success of adoptive CAR T-cell transfer earned it the title of the number one advance of the year in all of science and engineering in 2013, according to Science. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration designated CART19, which showed a 90 percent complete remission rate in refractory acute leukemia, as a “breakthrough therapy”—the first ever therapy developed entirely in an academic setting to earn the coveted mark. 

    Dr. June’s translational accomplishments have spurred a new industry for cell therapy, evidenced by the alliance established in 2012 between Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. June has been honored many times, including with the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Dr. June served as a U.S. naval officer from 1975 to 1996. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and completed his residency at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was also chief resident. He completed fellowships at the World Health Organization Immunology Research and Training Center and in oncology at the University of Washington. Prior to his appointments at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. June was a faculty member at the Uniformed Services University.