University of Pennsylvania immunotherapy researcher Dr. Carl June, who led the development of an experimental therapy for advanced childhood leukemia that is expected to become the first CAR T-cell therapy to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, will give the keynote talk today at the Conference on Cell & Gene Therapy for HIV Cure at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
For June, the occasion — delivering a Fred Hutch talk on HIV research — is a double homecoming. He was a Fred Hutch oncology fellow studying bone marrow transplantation from 1983 to 1986. Then he spent the next 10 years as an HIV researcher in a Navy-funded laboratory before returning to studying cancer.
Today director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine and a co-director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, June is among a handful of scientists around the world, including here at Fred Hutch, working to develop CAR-T therapies for cancer. These still-experimental therapies genetically reprogram a patients’ own T cells — a type of immune cell that searches out and destroys abnormal or infected cells — with synthetic receptors called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, to kill cancer.
In a phone interview last week from Philadelphia, June called his years at the Hutch “a transformative time” in his career.
“I started research there that has continued into today — a fascination with T cells and their biology,” he said.