PCMS_Philadelphia_Medicine_Spring2018 - 6

p h i l a m e d s o c  .org

feature

Dr. Carl June ...
the Man Behind the Gene Therapy
Cancer Breakthrough at Penn
By: Cadence A. Kim, MD, FACS, PCMS President

O

n August 30, 2017, the FDA announced the approval of
the first gene therapy initially called CAR T-cell therapy
and now named Tisagenlecleucel (KymriahTM) by Novartis
in the United States. The potential of gene therapy to use our own
cells, our own immune system to fight disease has opened up an
exciting new era into cancer research. One of the pioneers in this
research is Carl H. June, MD.

Dr. June is the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy,
Director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, and Director
of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, University of
Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. In 2016, Dr. June
was named one of Time Magazine's 2016 top people of the year.
Philadelphia Magazine referred to him as the "cancer slayer" in their
October 2017 article on him, and stated, "Carl June might be the
most important doctor in the world."
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of interviewing
Carl. He is always busy and often traveling. I also knew he was
training for another endurance bicycle race. This is not just any
bicycle race. It is the Dirty Kanza 200, which comprises 200 miles
of gravel riding with 10,000 feet of climbing in the Flint Hills
of east central Kansas. That is typical Carl. Find him something
hard and challenging, which demands a team to accomplish one's
goals, and he is in.
In many ways, his bicycling may be a metaphor for his work. I
therefore promised him that I would be very quick. It would be by
phone, just a few questions, 15 minutes, 30 maximum, and of course
I said "PLEASE." I was very wrong. The story was too interesting.
Almost two hours later, I realized how precarious a great discovery
can be. The therapy must be effective but obviously the side effects
must be acceptable. I gained much more insight into the person and

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Philadelphia Medicine : Spring 2018


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