Leukemia researcher tapped for 2014 Taubman Prize

Jun 04, 2014, 07:00 ET from University of Michigan Health System

ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A physician-scientist who developed a personalized immunotherapy for leukemia using patients' own T cells is the recipient of the 2014 Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science, awarded by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Carl June, M.D. of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will receive the $100,000 prize in recognition of the treatment he designed that is credited as the first successful and sustained demonstration of the use of gene transfer therapy to turn the body's own immune cells into weapons aimed at cancerous tumors.

The research is considered a landmark breakthrough in treating blood cancers that have stopped responding to conventional therapies, or for patients who are not candidates for bone marrow transplants, which carry a high mortality risk.

"Dr. June's visionary approach has transformed the scientific approach to these cancers and brought hope to patients who had little or none," said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute. "We are honored to recognize his extraordinary contributions by awarding him the Taubman Prize."

June was selected by a national panel of eminent medical science experts from among dozens of nominees for the Taubman Prize. His groundbreaking work has demonstrated that T cells, modified in the lab to carry an antibody-like protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), can be infused back into a patient's bloodstream, where the new "hunter" cells seek and attack the cancer cells. These special T cells also include a signaling domain that help them replicate, which enlarges the "army" of cells available to fight the cancer. 

The results of the first three patients to be part of a clinical trial of this immunotherapy were published in 2011. Updated results on the first 59 trial patients presented in December 2013 found that about half of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia responded to the therapy, and nearly 90 percent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – including both children and adults – went into remission after receiving the therapy.

June,  the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, will present the keynote address at the Taubman Institute's annual symposium on Oct. 10, 2014, at the Kahn Auditorium on the  University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus.  The symposium is open to the general public. 

Mr. A. Alfred Taubman, founder and chair of the Taubman Institute, will present the prize.

"Translating medical research into actual treatments and cures is the work that the Taubman Institute was created to promote and reward," said Taubman.  "There is no finer example today than what Dr. June has done for leukemia patients, and we are delighted to recognize his amazing accomplishments."

The Taubman Prize was established in 2012 to recognize outstanding translational medical research beyond the University of Michigan.  It includes a $100,000 award and is presented each year to the non-U-M clinician-scientist who has done the most to transform laboratory discoveries into clinical applications for patients suffering from disease.

Previous recipients are:

2013: Brian Druker, M.D. of the Oregon Health & Science University and Charles Sawyers, M.D. of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for their discoveries related to chronic myeloid leukemia.

2012: Hal Dietz, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University for his discoveries related to connective tissue disease.

About Carl June, M.D.: 

Carl H. June is the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, and director of Translational Research in the Abramson Cancer Center. His laboratory studies various mechanisms of lymphocyte activation relating to immune tolerance and adoptive immunotherapy.

June is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Baylor College of Medicine. He completed graduate training in immunology and malaria at the World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, and post-doctoral training in transplantation biology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

June has received numerous awards and grants for his innovative work, including a Bristol-Myers Squibb Company Freedom to Discover Research Grant; the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute; the Ernest Beutler Prize from the American Society of Hematology; a Clinical Research Forum Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award; and The Joan Miller and Linda Bernstein Gene Therapy Ovarian Cancer Award from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy; and the Philadelphia Award.

About the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute: 

In 2008, Michigan businessman, philanthropist and noted patron of the arts A. Alfred Taubman provided the initial funds to establish the institute bearing his name at the University of Michigan Medical School. Its mission is to provide the university's finest medical scientists the freedom, resources and collaborative environment they need to push the boundaries of medical discovery, to produce breakthroughs in cures to speed the development of effective treatment for some of the most devastating illnesses. Currently, 30 Taubman Scholars are advancing their research with the assistance of grants from the institute.

For more information, visit www.taubmaninstitute.org.

SOURCE University of Michigan Health System