Sanford Health, the largest provider of rural healthcare in the country, today announced Carl June, M.D. as the winner of the biennial Sanford Lorraine Cross Award which honors life-changing breakthroughs and innovations in medical science.
Sanford Health is the only health system in the country to award a $1 million prize for achievements in the medical sciences. The winner was announced at a special ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“This was an amazing event and an extraordinary group of finalists, so it’s an honor and a thrill to be receiving this award,” said Carl June, M.D., Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine; Director, Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; and Director, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania.
T cells are like the body’s security guards, recognizing harmful intruders and triggering an immune response. The 2021 winner of the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award, Dr. June, with colleagues Dr. Bruce Levine, the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, Dr. James Riley, a Professor of Microbiology, and Dr. Michael Milone, an Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, were able to reprogram selected T cells to recognize and destroy leukemia cancer cells.
This therapy is now named KYMRIAH by Novartis and is FDA-approved to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
In 2010, June and Levine treated their first patient – a retired 65-year-old corrections officer named Bill Ludwig. After just a few infusions, Ludwig fell severely ill and spent a week in the ICU. Then, on the third week after treatment, he would come to find out that his cancer had disappeared when he woke up and found the masses had disappeared.
A second patient, Emily Whitehead, had relapsed twice at the age of six with an extremely aggressive form of leukemia. Like Ludwig, Whitehead got severely ill as the therapy tried to rid her of her cancer. However, this time Dr. June recalled an arthritis drug (from his daughter’s struggle with juvenile arthritis) that could manage her side effects.
The story of Emily Whitehead was featured in a 2012 article in the New York Times and covered in Forbes, PARENTS Magazine and the PBS documentary “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.”
“Sanford Health’s commitment to discovery has always been driven by our relentless focus on making a life-changing impact for our patients, people and the communities we serve,” said Bill Gassen, president and CEO of Sanford Health.
“Today this continues as we honor Dr. June with the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award in recognition of his life-saving discoveries and accomplishments. This is just one example of how we are working to transform the future by supporting change-makers in medicine and research. While one can only imagine what the next century holds for health care innovation, we are proud to be at the forefront of it.”