Dr. Carl H. June Highlights Promise of CAR-T Cells in Karnofsky Lecture

Dr. Carl H. June Highlights Promise of CAR-T Cells in Karnofsky Lecture

Dr. Carl H. June accepts the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award during Opening Session.
Carl H. June, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, accepted the 2017 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture on June 3, an honor bestowed for his pioneering work on engineering T cells in targeted cancer therapy. Dr. June said he was deeply humbled to accept the award on behalf of the patients and teams of scientists who have developed T-cell therapies.

Dr. June said the path of immunotherapy development has a long history, with many U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals obtained over the past decade. Later this year, FDA approval is anticipated for CD19 CAR-T cells for numerous indications. “We have many new tools evolving, and learning how to use them will be one of our challenges,” he said.

His Karnofsky lecture provided a history and perspective of this evolving field. It is an area of so-called synthetic biology, a field focused on “how we can make the immune system better than we have naturally from Darwinian evolution,” he said. “There are many different areas where we can enhance the function of the immune system and, in particular, enable T cells to function and sustain antitumor effects.”

The number of trials researching CAR-T cells reached 183 in April, an increase from 2010 when fewer than five trials focusing on this area of research were conducted. This trend can be seen internationally, too; there are now more trials of this kind underway in China than in the United States. “This is an evolving ecosystem that involves many different disciplines, including clinicians, cell biologists, immunologists, big data computer scientists and biomedical and chemical engineers. All of this needs to evolve, and the major challenge is how long that will take,” Dr. June said.

One challenge will be solving the “scale-out issues” for manufacturing gene-modified autologous T cells, he said. Having universal “third-party cells” could advance the field, particularly if these off-the-shelf cells are shown to be safe and effective.  

–Kathy Holliman, MEd