Prize honours pioneers in CAR-T cell therapy

Trophy

The 2024 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize has been awarded to four scientists whose discoveries led to the creation of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells.

The award recipients are:

  • Renier Brentjens, Katherine Anne Gioia Endowed Chair of Medicine and Deputy Director of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Zelig Eshhar, Professor Emeritus, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Chair of Immunology, Division of Research & Development, Sourasky Medical Center, Israel
  • Carl June, Richard W Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
  • Michel Sadelain Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair, Founding Director of the Center for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

The $500,000 award, to be shared among the four winners, is given by the Warren Alpert Foundation in recognition of work that has improved the understanding, prevention, treatment, or cure of human disease.

The prize is administered by Harvard Medical School. The award winners will be recognised at a scientific symposium on 10 October hosted by Harvard Medical School.

“The collective work of the four scientists honoured this year has propelled the treatment of blood cancers into a new era of immune therapy and added an invaluable new tool to our armamentarium,” said George Daley, Dean of HMS and Chair of the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize scientific advisory committee. “The discoveries are a striking example of the promise of synthetic biology to redefine the way we conceive and design novel therapies.”

The development of CAR-T therapy

More than a century ago, physicians observed that patients with cancer who also had bacterial infections experienced curious improvement of their cancers. Physician William Coley in the late 19th century famously treated patients by injecting streptococcal bacteria into their tumours, causing the cancers to shrink.

The collective discoveries of the four researchers led to the design of optimised immune cells that combine T cells’ cancer-killing ability with the specificity of antibodies to spot a desired target – in this case, tumour cells – and disarm it.

CAR-T therapies have since been approved to treat large cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and multiple myeloma.

The Warren Alpert Foundation Prize

The Warren Alpert Foundation Prize recognises the research of scientists throughout the world. Including the 2024 prize, the foundation has awarded more than $8 million to 83 individuals. Since the inception of the award in 1987, 14 honourees have gone on to receive Nobel prizes.

Other past recipients include:

  • Drew Weissman, Katalin Karikó, Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci, and Eric Huang for pioneering discoveries into the biology of mRNA
  • James Allison, Lieping Chen, Gordon Freeman, Tasuku Honjo, and Arlene Sharpe for discoveries into cancer’s ability to evade immune surveillance
  • Rodolphe Barrangou, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, Philippe Horvath, and Virginijus Siksnys for CRISPR-related discoveries

Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, DDW

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