Avery Posey’s cancer research takes high risks for big rewards

The assistant professor of systems pharmacology and translational therapeutics, who studied with Carl June as a postdoctoral fellow, combines his two research passions—gene therapy and investigating ‘little known’ biology—in the pursuit of new knowledge.

Much of the world, including research at Penn Medicine, has focused its attention on how T cells–which play a central role in immune response—might shape the trajectory of COVID-19 infection, and how immunotherapy can shed light on treatment of the disease.

Avery Posey in a medical lab wearing a white coat.
Avery Posey, Jr., an assistant professor of systems pharmacology and translational therapeutics. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

Already a leader in immunotherapy research and treatment, Penn Medicine pioneered the groundbreaking development of CAR T cell cancer therapy. Avery Posey, an assistant professor of systems pharmacology and translational therapeutics, trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Carl June, who pioneered CAR T cell immunotherapy to treat cancer. Now as a faculty member at Penn, Posey has maintained a focus on T cell therapeutics, mostly for the treatment of cancer.

“This research combines two of my biggest interests—the use of gene therapy to treat disease and the investigation of little known biology, such as the roles of glycans in cell behavior. The pursuit of new knowledge, the roads less traveled—those are my inspirations,” Posey says.

Posey wants to see funding match the pace of research. “Science moves at incredible speeds, yet the structures that support the science are unbearably slow,” he says. “When writing grants to support new science, grant reviewers often seek assurances that the project will work and that funding such work is low risk. That means investigators are often finishing entire projects before being funded to do that (now complete) proposed work.

“But scientific breakthroughs do not arise from low-risk studies. There is a great need for funding high-risk research, where ideas are the most important part of a proposal and not preliminary data.”

This story is by Melissa Moody. Read more at Penn Medicine News.