Penn Medicine CAR T therapy expert Carl June receives 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize

The award from Japan’s oldest private university honors outstanding contributions to medicine and life sciences.

Carl June.
Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy Carl June.

Carl June, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, has been named a 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize Laureate. He is recognized for his pioneering role in the development of CAR T cell therapy for cancer, which uses modified versions of patients’ own immune cells to attack their cancer.

The Keio Medical Science Prize is an annual award endowed by Keio University, Japan’s oldest private university, which recognizes researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to the fields of medicine or the life sciences. It is the only prize of its kind awarded by a Japanese university, and eight laureates of this prize have later won the Nobel Prize. Now in its 27th year, the prize encourages the expansion of researcher networks throughout the world and contributes to the well-being of humankind.

“Dr. June exemplifies the spirit of curiosity and fortitude that make Penn home to so many ‘firsts’ in science and medicine,” said Penn President Liz Magill. “His work provides hope to cancer patients and their families across the world, and inspiration to our global community of physicians and scientists who are working to develop the next generation of treatments and cures for diseases of all kinds.”

June has been widely recognized for his role in pioneering the CAR T cell therapy, which became the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer in August of 2017. Clinical trials of this approach began at Penn in 2010, with long-lasting remissions stretching past 10 years in some of the earliest children and adults treated. There are now six FDA-approved CAR T cell therapies, for six different cancers, including pediatric and young adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia and several other blood cancers. More than 15,000 patients across the world who had run out of options have now received these transformative treatments. Dozens more clinical trials are in progress, including those for breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer, plus other diseases including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and lupus. Additional laboratory work in progress is aimed at harnessing the approach for heart disease and dementia.

“Dr. June’s work and its global impact have given us a roadmap for unlocking the potential of the immune system to fight disease,” said J. Larry Jameson, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. “He is one of Penn’s most distinguished faculty members and we are thrilled for him to receive this impressive global recognition.”

June, who is also the director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Penn, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Baylor College of Medicine. He is the recipient of many prestigious scientific achievement awards, including the Dan David Award, the William B Coley award, the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, the AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology, the Philadelphia Award, the Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the Novartis Prize in Immunology, the Karl Landsteiner Memorial award, the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award, the Debrecen Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to his scientific accolades, June has been featured in hundreds of news outlets across the world, was named to the 2018 TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world by TIME magazine, and is the subject of a new documentary film, “Of Medicine and Miracles,” which made its debut at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

The Keio Medical Science Prize is an international award for which academics and researchers from around the world are invited to nominate a candidate who has demonstrated innovation and notable developments in medicine and the life sciences. Laureates are then selected through a rigorous review process by about ninety Japanese academics from both within and outside of Keio University. Following this extensive review process, June and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine Research Institute and the University of Tokyo, were selected as this year’s laureates.

An award ceremony and commemorative lecture to recognize the 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize Laureates will take place on Monday, Nov. 28 at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo. Laureates receive a certificate of merit, a medal, and a monetary award of 10 million yen, the equivalent of roughly $70,000 USD.