CAR-T Trailblazer Carl June Who Collaborated on Novartis’ Kymriah Makes Time's 100 Influential List

University of PA

A pioneer in CAR-T therapies has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2018.

Time selected Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania trailblazer in gene therapy, for his pioneering work in developing CAR-T treatments for cancer patients, including collaboration with Novartis AG on its approved CAR-T therapy Kymriah.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapies (CAR-T) are engineered in a laboratory to recognize a specific antigen in a cell and then administered into a cancer patient. The CAR-T cells should, if all goes as planned, multiply within the body and target the antigen and eliminate the threat. June’s research into CAR-T treatments led to the approval for the first-ever such gene therapy approved for use in the United States. Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Novartis AG’s Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) for patients diagnosed with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that is refractory or in second or later relapse. Kymriah is a genetically-modified autologous T-cell immunotherapy. It is a one-time treatment. Kymriah uses the 4-1BB costimulatory domain in its chimeric antigen receptor to enhance cellular expansion and persistence.

When the FDA approved the treatment, June called it a “significant step forward in individualized cancer treatment.” June, as the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, worked in close collaboration with the Swiss-based pharma giant on the development of Kymriah, which has since won approval for more indications. At the time of the FDA approval, June said researchers were already eager to “progress CAR-T therapy in a host of hematologic and other cancer types."

In selecting June as one of its august 100, Time said it focused on people whose “influence is likely to grow, so we can look around the corner to see what is coming.”

CAR-T clinical trials began at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. According to Time two of the first three patients who received the therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) have remained in remission for the past eight years.

In a statement, June said he was fortunate that the work he has done in the lab, as well as co-director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the university, has provided him with the opportunity to improve the lives of patients and their families.

“It’s truly an honor for our team to be included among so many other tremendous honorees,” June said.

At the Parker Institute, which was funded by Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Sean Parker, researchers like June, are working to develop effective cancer immunotherapy treatments using CAR=T treatments as well as CRISPR technology. Last year the Parker Institute forged a deal with Singapore-based Tessa Therapeutics to harness the power of Virus Specific T-Cells. As opposed to traditional CAR-T therapies where T cells are extracted and re-engineered to kill cancer cells, Virus Specific T-Cells alive, functional and able to react to the cancer, Tessa said.

In addition to the Time honor, June has earned multiple accolades throughout his career. He has won the Novartis Immunology Award for Cancer Cell Therapy Development, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the William b. Coley award, the Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award from the AARB, the Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, the Philadelphia Award and the Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence.

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