Immunotherapy trailblazer Dr. Phil Greenberg to receive E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize

American Society of Hematology honors his ‘vision, creativity and scientific rigor’ in T-cell therapy research
Dr. Phil Greenberg
Greenberg will present his Thomas Lecture, “The Long Road to Develop Adoptive Therapy with T Cells That Can Effectively Target Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Other Malignancies,” on Dec. 9 at the ASH Annual Meeting. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

The American Society of Hematology will honor Dr. Phil Greenberg of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with the 2019 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize for his outstanding contributions to the field of immunotherapy.

The honor recognizes pioneering research achievements in hematology that represent a paradigm shift or significant discovery in the field, according to an ASH press release.

Fittingly, the lectureship and prize is named after Greenberg’s late mentor, a Fred Hutch scientist who was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his pioneering research in bone marrow transplantation.

“It is a great honor to receive this prize, and in particular an award named after E. Donnall Thomas, who was a mentor, colleague and friend,” said Greenberg, who heads the Hutch’s Program in Immunology. “Dr. Thomas recruited me to the research group at Fred Hutch in 1976, after I had completed training in basic immunology. At the time, I told him that I thought we would eventually be able to do away with bone marrow transplantation and replace it with [immune cells called] T cells that specifically target cancer. Now, we are getting increasingly close to making that rather brash statement a reality.”

Greenberg will present his lecture, “The Long Road to Develop Adoptive Therapy with T Cells That Can Effectively Target Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Other Malignancies,” at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9, at the ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in Orlando, Florida. He will discuss genetically engineered, AML-targeting T cells and the new technologies that are providing insights into how these strategies succeed or fail patients — insights that are now helping researchers develop improved, next-generation immunotherapies.

Greenberg is recognized internationally for his pioneering contributions to the development of T-cell therapy. With lab member Dr. Stan Riddell (now on the Hutch faculty), Greenberg is known for having established the concept — as well as the associated methods and technologies — of isolating T cells in the laboratory that are specific to a particular disease target and reproducing them to the quantity necessary to observe, in living organisms, these cells’ activity for targeting a malignancy.

This work began in the 1970s and has allowed researchers to explore the biology of the cells in detail to better understand how the cells function and the obstacles that may interfere with their activity. Currently, Greenberg’s team is using this approach to target AML and solid tumors in clinical trials.

Several drugs called CAR T-cell therapies — one form of T-cell therapy for cancer — have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating certain patients with advanced blood cancers. “CAR T-cell therapy strategies would not be as advanced today without the vision, creativity, and scientific rigor of Dr. Greenberg and his research team, and he continues to innovate and lead the evolution of these therapies,” said 2019 ASH President Dr. Roy Silverstein of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, in a statement.

Previous E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize honorees include Dr. Rainer Storb (2005), who was a member of Thomas’ original transplant team and now heads the Hutch’s Transplantation Biology Program.

Greenberg’s other recent honors include election to the Academy of the American Association of Cancer Research and election as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Association of Immunologists, both in 2019, and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer’s Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award and Lectureship in 2018.

— Adapted from an ASH press release

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Susan Keown was a staff editor and writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center from 2014-2022 who has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions. Find her on Twitter @sejkeown.

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