Faculty in the News

Penn Medicine CAR T therapy expert Carl June receives 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize

Penn Medicine CAR T therapy expert Carl June receives 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize

The award from Japan’s oldest private university honors outstanding contributions to medicine and life sciences. Dr. Carl June has been named a 2022 Keio Medical Science Prize Laureate. He is recognized for his pioneering role in the development of CAR T cell therapy for cancer, which uses modified versions of patients’ own immune cells to attack their cancer.

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COVID-19 Omicron Boosters Are Here, but Drew Weissman Wants a Vaccine for All Coronaviruses

COVID-19 Omicron Boosters Are Here, but Drew Weissman Wants a Vaccine for All Coronaviruses

The Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the ongoing work at Penn on mRNA vaccines, specifically the focus on creating a coronavirus vaccine that would protect against any and all coronaviruses. The story featured Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, Mohamad-Gabriel Alameh, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in Infectious Diseases, Garima Dwivedi, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in Infectious Diseases, and Benjamin Davis, PhD, a research specialist in Weissman’s lab. “Coronaviruses have caused three epidemics in the past 20 years,” Weissman said. “We have to assume there will be more.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

A Vaccine in Each Arm Could Be a Painful Mistake

A Vaccine in Each Arm Could Be a Painful Mistake

As Americans head to pharmacies for the newest version of the COVID-19 vaccine, they may get their yearly flu shot at the same time. Immunologists, vaccinologists, and pharmacists commented on the choice between getting a booster and flu shot both in one arm or different arms. Rishi Goel, a PSOM student and research fellow at the lab of E. John Wherry, PhD, explained why placement is unlikely to affect how much protection the vaccines provide.

The Atlantic

Have Researchers Hit a Wall in the Hunt for Severe COVID-19 Drugs?

Have Researchers Hit a Wall in the Hunt for Severe COVID-19 Drugs?

Since February 2021, no new therapies for the sickest COVID-19 patients have emerged as decisively effective. Current treatments already substantially dampen the body’s inflammatory firestorm, giving patients’ lungs time to heal. It’s not clear that suppressing the immune system further will help, or that it would be possible to build a large enough trial to prove it. Nuala Meyer, MD, an associate professor of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, was quoted discussing the issue.

STAT News

Cell-killing Cancer Therapy Shows Promise for a Devastating Autoimmune Disorder

Cell-killing Cancer Therapy Shows Promise for a Devastating Autoimmune Disorder

Aimee Payne, MD, PhD, a professor of Dermatology, commented on research that five individuals, when treated with their own genetically-modified immune cells, had their severe lupus symptoms vanish. Payne, who studies CAR-T therapy and who was not involved in this study, said the treatment “did not flare disease. That’s amazing.”

Science

How a ‘Living Drug’ Could Treat Autoimmune Disease

How a ‘Living Drug’ Could Treat Autoimmune Disease

In lupus, a type of autoimmune disease, the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between its own cells and foreign ones, so it mistakenly attacks its own tissues and organs. Now, German researchers have reported that they have harnessed lupus patients’ own cells, through CAR T cell therapy, to treat this disease. “This impressive study adds to the growing body of evidence that CAR-T therapy may be a therapeutic option for diseases beyond cancer, including autoimmune disorders such as lupus,” said Jonathan Epstein, MD, chief scientific officer and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Medicine.

WIRED

Monkeypox Vaccine May Have an Impact as Cases Decline in Philadelphia and Nationwide

Monkeypox Vaccine May Have an Impact as Cases Decline in Philadelphia and Nationwide

Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases, said that not only have monkeypox vaccinations likely decreased new cases of monkeypox, but that people’s more careful behavior is also helping. “The optimistic viewpoint in me is we still could potentially get control of this outbreak,” said Isaacs.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Penn Medical Pioneers Team Up to Launch New Cell Therapy Biotech

Penn Medical Pioneers Team Up to Launch New Cell Therapy Biotech

University of Pennsylvania mRNA and cell therapy experts have launched a new biotech venture, Capstan Therapeutics, to develop first-in-class medicines through in vivo cell engineering. Penn founders of the venture, supported with $165 million in seed and Series A financing, include Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; Bruce Levine, PhD, the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy; Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research; and Jonathan Epstein, MD, chief scientific officer and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Medicine.

STAT News • Philadelphia Business Journal

Trapping COVID

Trapping COVID

A recently launched clinical trial at Penn Medicine will evaluate the safety and efficacy of a chewing gum designed to trap SARS-CoV-2 virus in the saliva, potentially blocking transmission of COVID-19 from one person to another. The gum was developed by Henry Daniell of the School of Dental Medicine and colleagues. If found effective, a similar approach could be used to reduce transmission of other respiratory or oral diseases.

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The New COVID-19 Vaccines

The New COVID-19 Vaccines

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about what people need to know about the new COVID-19 booster shots, and when people should get them. “We’re very lucky to be in this position. This new booster now adds in an additional spike protein from the BA.4 and BA.5 variant — the variant that’s circulating now,” said Wherry. “That’s going to give us an additional ability to make antibodies that are more tailored to the strains that are currently circulating.”

WHYY • SELF

How Do You Get Monkeypox? Sex Guidelines Are Under Debate.

How Do You Get Monkeypox? Sex Guidelines Are Under Debate.

Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases, explained that while monkeypox can be spread during sex, there are examples of transmission simply from contact. He also called for more emphasis on the frequency of sex and transmission rather than simply associating sex and monkeypox.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Scientists Have Made a Human Microbiome from Scratch

Scientists Have Made a Human Microbiome from Scratch

Gary Wu, MD, associate chief of research for Gastroenterology and the Ferdinand G. Weisbrod Professor in Gastroenterology, commented on new research in the journal Cell which chronicled the first microbiome made synthetically. “It’s something that has been badly needed for some period of time,” said Wu.

New York Times


Sept 2022

Updated Booster Shots Expected Within Days as CDC Signs Off

Updated Booster Shots Expected Within Days as CDC Signs Off

Having updated COVID-19 vaccines by next week, rather than in mid-November, could save between roughly 7,500 and 18,000 lives by the spring, experts estimate. “We’re still seeing just under 500 deaths per day, which is putting us at about four times the level of yearly deaths we’ll tolerate for influenza,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “That’s still an unacceptable level of death. I’m hopeful we’ll make a dent in that because of updated boosters.”

New York Times

The future of mRNA

The future of mRNA

Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó of the Perelman School of Medicine became household names thanks to their revolutionary work developing mRNA COVID vaccines. Now meet their team at the Weissman Lab, a melting pot of genders, ages, and ethnicities that continues to lead the world in mRNA research and vaccine innovation.

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Tweaked COVID-19 Boosters Are Close, But How Much Will They Help?

Tweaked COVID-19 Boosters Are Close, But How Much Will They Help?

COVID-19 vaccines tweaked to better match today’s omicron threat are expected to roll out in a few weeks but still up in the air is how much benefit the boosters will offer, who should get one — and how soon. “We need to give a clear, forward-looking set of expectations,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Associated Press

Former Penn Virologist Neal Nathanson, MD, Leaves a Legacy

Former Penn Virologist Neal Nathanson, MD, Leaves a Legacy

Neal Nathanson, MD, who started at Penn as the chair of Microbiology in 1979, was an accomplished scientist who held numerous leadership positions in his field. He was also a staunch advocate for women in science. Nathanson held numerous leadership positions at Penn, including vice provost for Research. His daughter Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, the Pearl Basser Professor for BRCA-Related Research at the Abramson Cancer Center, said he treated everybody the same way including recruiting and mentoring women at a time when it was rare. She credits her father with inspiring her own interest in research.

Baltimore Sun

FDA Authorizes Updated COVID-19 Booster Shots Targeting Omicron Subvariants

FDA Authorizes Updated COVID-19 Booster Shots Targeting Omicron Subvariants

The FDA cleared two COVID-19 booster options aimed at subvariants that are now dominant, hoping to curtail a fall or winter surge. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, said that even if the half of the vaccine that targets BA.5 doesn’t work well, recipients should still reap some benefit from the portion of the original vaccine.

New York Times

Beating the odds

Beating the odds

Delaware elementary school teacher Bri Iacona is returning to her classroom after a yearlong battle with severe COVID-19, reports 6ABC News. Iacona, who spent 97 days on life support before receiving heart surgery and a double lung transplant, attributes her survival to Christian BermudezJoshua Diamond, and the rest of her medical team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. 

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Monkeypox: What is known and unknown

Monkeypox: What is known and unknown

Now an official public health emergency, the global monkeypox outbreak shows no sign of slowing down. Stuart Isaacs of the Perelman School of Medicine offers an updated look at what’s known about this disease, how it differs from previous outbreaks, what therapies exist to prevent and treat it, and what to watch for this fall.

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Promising therapy

Promising therapy

CAR T cell therapy, first developed more than a decade ago, modifies a patient’s immune system to destroy cancerous cells. In an interview with Science FridayCarl June of the Perelman School of Medicine discusses the immunotherapy’s continued use in battling new blood cancers, as well as its future potential for treating solid state cancers and autoimmune diseases. (Audio)

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Variant-Targeted COVID-19 Boosters Test the Promise of mRNA Technology

Variant-Targeted COVID-19 Boosters Test the Promise of mRNA Technology

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and a pioneering mRNA scientist, said that adapting the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine to the current variants is straightforward due to the mRNA vaccine platform. “This is what mRNA is designed to do, to rapidly adapt to new viruses, new strains, new variants,” said Weissman.

Wall Street Journal

New Book Describes COVID-19 Vaccine and Moderna

New Book Describes COVID-19 Vaccine and Moderna

The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed author and writer Pete Loftus whose book covers the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and the company Moderna. Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, were mentioned, as the pair’s research over decades led to the mRNA vaccine platform that was used by Moderna.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Tumor treatment

Tumor treatment

Celeste Simon at the Perelman School of Medicine has identified a potential new strategy for treating liver cancer. A metabolic modification leaves liver tumors vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of a key molecule. Simon hopes to take advantage of this weak spot to starve the tumors using existing drugs.

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What is Vasculitis, the Disorder Ashton Kutcher Battled?

What is Vasculitis, the Disorder Ashton Kutcher Battled?

Actor Ashton Kutcher recently announced he suffered an episode of a rare autoimmune disorder called vasculitis. Peter Merkel, MD, chief of Rheumatology and director of the Penn Vasculitis Center, took part in a Q&A to explain what the disease is and why it can be difficult to diagnose.

KYW Newsradio

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards $4.5 Million to Early Career Researchers

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards $4.5 Million to Early Career Researchers

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy presented $4.5 million in fellowship and scholarship awards to nine graduate and postdoctoral researchers, including Derek Oldridge, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Darwin Ye, a PhD candidate in Cancer Biology training in the laboratory of Andy Minn, MD, PhD.

Healio

Philly Health Department Launches New Lab to Sequence, Track COVID-19 Variants

Philly Health Department Launches New Lab to Sequence, Track COVID-19 Variants

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has opened a new lab to study the genetic makeup of the virus that causes COVID-19, which will help health officials learn more about variants that are circulating in the region. Throughout the pandemic, the lab of Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology, has been conducting genome sequencing to track COVID-19 variants across the Delaware Valley. He said the more people who can do this work, the better, as there are plenty of virus samples to be sequenced, and this research can lead to important discoveries.

WHYY

Are Vomiting or Diarrhea Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Are Vomiting or Diarrhea Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is spreading from person-to-person transmission differently than it has in the past, according to Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases. He also commented on how some recent research does not find vomiting or diarrhea to be a symptom of the virus.

TODAY

Penn Rheumatology Chief Discusses Vasculitis After Ashton Kutcher Reveals Diagnosis

Penn Rheumatology Chief Discusses Vasculitis After Ashton Kutcher Reveals Diagnosis

Peter Merkel, MD, chief of Rheumatology and director of the Penn Vasculitis Center, joined Channel Q’s morning show to discuss what vasculitis is and what could have caused the types of symptoms that actor Ashton Kutcher experienced.

Channel Q

New Clues to Target B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Effectively with CAR-T Cell Therapy

New Clues to Target B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Effectively with CAR-T Cell Therapy

A study published in Cancer Discovery led by Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, found that inhibiting an enzyme called BCL-2 could help to improve treatment with CAR T cell therapy for patients with relapsed/refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

MedPage Today

Beyond Paxlovid for COVID-19: The Hunt for Better COVID-19 Medications

Beyond Paxlovid for COVID-19: The Hunt for Better COVID-19 Medications

With regards to treating COVID-19, the first-generation drugs were better than nothing, but it took more research to find better options. According to Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, “As the second-, third- and fourth-generation drugs were developed, the drugs got more potent, had less side effects and can be given less often. It really speaks to the fact that every development of a new drug can help mitigate all the things about the first generation that were imperfect.”

GRID

Losing mom to brain cancer fuels an expert’s mission for breakthrough

Losing mom to brain cancer fuels an expert’s mission for breakthrough

Gregory L. Beatty of the Perelman School of Medicine is one stage closer to beating glioblastoma, a rare but highly malignant brain cancer that took his mother’s life. His team’s research indicates the importance of the immune system and the potential of immunotherapy in treating this traditionally resistant cancer. “I kept my promise, but this is only the first step,” Beatty says. “There is still so much to do.”

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Another Way the Coronavirus is Outsmarting Us

Another Way the Coronavirus is Outsmarting Us

When a virus infiltrates cells, the cell releases interferons, which act like a “burglar alarm,” alerting the rest of the body that a dangerous intruder is present. Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, explains how some coronaviruses, like MERS, are able to completely disarm interferons. However, she said, while COVID-19 is evolving to evade interferons, it’s unlikely it will evolve like MERS to completely disable them.

The Atlantic

State of Emergencies Declared During Monkeypox Outbreak

State of Emergencies Declared During Monkeypox Outbreak

Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases, offered the latest information on the spread of monkeypox. While the virus replicates very carefully, which decreases the risk it will mutate, the way it's spreading from person to person is unique, said Isaacs.

Healthline | Today

Am I Going to Get COVID-19 Again? What to Know About Reinfection.

Am I Going to Get COVID-19 Again? What to Know About Reinfection.

Even with the newer COVID-19 variants, the vaccines still protect against severe disease. However, variants may continue to evolve to be more effective at getting through the body’s initial line of immune defense. For now, that likely means regular booster shots will be recommended, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Philadelphia Inquirer • Philadelphia Inquirer (2)


August 2022

The Big Booster Question We Should Be Focused On

The Big Booster Question We Should Be Focused On

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, co-wrote a piece examining the state of vaccine protection today and future booster policy. “Anyone who would benefit from an additional boost should act as soon as one is authorized for their age- and health-risk group. If that’s the current standard vaccine, take it, and don’t wait for an omicron-based one,” the authors noted. “When those BA.4/5-based vaccines are rolled out, wait a sensible time (multiple months) before having another boost.”

MedPage Today

As BA.5 Spreads, How Long Will a Prior COVID-19 Infection Protect You?

As BA.5 Spreads, How Long Will a Prior COVID-19 Infection Protect You?

Experts say the window between infections might be shrinking, fueled in part by the immune-evading omicron BA.5 subvariant, although researchers are still gathering data. A COVID-19 infection is no longer a “get out of having COVID” card for the next three months. “I don’t think anyone should think they’re invincible,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Wall Street Journal

How a New Chewing Gum Could ‘Trap’ COVID-19, Reduce Spread

How a New Chewing Gum Could ‘Trap’ COVID-19, Reduce Spread

A new study found that a medically crafted chewing gum could reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at Penn discovered the gum containing “plant-grown protein” acts as a “trap” for the virus. Ron Collman, MD, a professor of Medicine and Microbiology and a Pulmonary and Critical Care specialist, said, “the approach of making the proteins in plants and using them orally is inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it really is clever.”

New York Post

Updates on CAR T Cell Therapy

Updates on CAR T Cell Therapy

Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, spoke with “Cell & Gene: The Podcast” to discuss the current state of CAR-T therapy, what’s on the horizon for immunotherapy, and an update on the first child to receive CAR-T cell therapy.

Cell and Gene Therapy

Patients With Advanced Pancreatic Cancer Benefit From Chemo-Free Treatment Regimen

Patients With Advanced Pancreatic Cancer Benefit From Chemo-Free Treatment Regimen

Data published in the Lancet Oncology — and presented at the 2022 ASCO annual meeting — looked at a treatment combo for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer who had stopped receiving chemotherapy. The study was co-led by Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, and Kim Reiss, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology/Oncology.

Cure Today

Losing Mom to Brain Cancer Fuels Penn Medicine Expert’s Mission for Breakthrough

Losing Mom to Brain Cancer Fuels Penn Medicine Expert’s Mission for Breakthrough

Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, and a team of Penn Medicine researchers recently published breakthrough study results inCancer Immunology Research suggesting that the immune system may be fundamental to outcomes in glioblastoma.

Read More: Penn Medicine News Blog

Markers for Pancreatic Cancer Linked With Better Responses to Chemoimmunotherapy

Markers for Pancreatic Cancer Linked With Better Responses to Chemoimmunotherapy

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, and colleagues from the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, presented research from the PRINCE trial at the 2022 American Society for Clinical Oncology, which evaluated several chemotherapies and immunotherapies in combination for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. 

Cancer Network

CAR T-Cell Therapy Turns 10 and Finally Earns the Word ‘Cure’

CAR T-Cell Therapy Turns 10 and Finally Earns the Word ‘Cure’

Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, and his team, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, came up with “the magic formula” of CAR T cell therapy to help save pediatric patient Emily Whitehead, who was dying from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Whitehead is in remission ten years later.

Medscape

Monkeypox: How Worried Should We Be?

Monkeypox: How Worried Should We Be?

Camden County recently recorded its first case of monkeypox, as the virus gradually spreads in several states. Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases, joined “Radio Times” to discuss monkeypox’s slow spread and provide context on risks for the disease.

WHYY

Study Finds HIV May Speed Up the Body’s Aging Process

Study Finds HIV May Speed Up the Body’s Aging Process

A new study found that HIV may accelerate cellular aging within two to three years of initial infection. While medical advances have ensured that those living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, medical experts stress that studies like this highlight that HIV is still a virus that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ronald G. Collman, MD, director of the Penn Center for AIDS Research, who was not affiliated with the study, said research like this is a reminder to avoid complacency.

Healthline

Philadelphia Cancer Research Fueled by More Than $700M National Cancer Institute Grants

Philadelphia Cancer Research Fueled by More Than $700M National Cancer Institute Grants

Between 2019 and 2021, 43 Philadelphia-area organizations captured more than $765 million in research grants for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) — a figure that ranks fourth in the country. Robert Vonderheide, MD, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, said, “NCI funding — and other NIH funding — provides critical support for all types of research. Abramson Cancer Center researchers hold more than $58 million in annual direct funding from NCI grants and other sponsored research.”

Philadelphia Business Journal

Doctors Finding New Hope in Treatments for Deadly Pancreatic Cancer

Doctors Finding New Hope in Treatments for Deadly Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is poised to pass lung cancer as the deadliest tumor type, surpassing colon, breast, and prostate cancer. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, is convinced that a breakthrough in immunotherapy will come soon and said, “Finding genetic mutations like KRAS, as well as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations better known for their link to breast cancers, can help identify patients who will respond to treatments targeting those mutations.”

USA Today

What Explains Poor Adherence to EoE Therapy?

What Explains Poor Adherence to EoE Therapy?

Gary Falk, MD, a professor of Gastroenterology, weighed in on why patients often poorly adhere to treatment for Eosinophilic Esophagitis, a chronic disease of the immune system that can lead to damage to esophageal tissue. Falk said patients could forget to take medicine if treatment makes them feel better, and therapy can also be very difficult to follow.

Medscape

Philadelphia’s Top Cancer Researchers Excited for the Future of Oncology

Philadelphia’s Top Cancer Researchers Excited for the Future of Oncology

The Philadelphia Business Journal assembled five leaders from the region’s largest cancer centers, including Penn Medicine, for a “Taking on Cancer” event to discuss the evolution of oncological care, research, and what’s on the horizon for cancer patients. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, covered the tremendous advances in precision medicine that have shaped cancer care over the past decade. He said, “What excites me is the prospect of taking all these scientific understandings, particularly around the immune system...and actually preventing cancer.”

Philadelphia Business Journal

U.S. Grapples With Whether to Modify COVID-19 Vaccine for Fall

U.S. Grapples With Whether to Modify COVID-19 Vaccine for Fall

Health authorities are facing a critical decision: whether to offer new COVID-19 booster shots this fall that are modified to better match the latest changes of the coronavirus. The top candidates are “bivalent” shots — a combination of the original vaccine plus omicron protection. That’s because the original vaccines do spur production of some virus-fighting antibodies strong enough to cross-react with newer mutants — in addition to their proven benefits against severe disease, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

U.S. News & World Report

New Genetic Clues to Severe COVID-19

New Genetic Clues to Severe COVID-19

A team led by Andrew Wells, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, has used advanced genomics techniques to illuminate some of the genetic determinants of severe COVID-19. Wells and colleagues, including first author Matthew Pahl, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate, used advanced techniques to record the complex 3D architecture of genomic DNA, linking the severe-COVID DNA variants to 16 genes expressed in human immune cells. The findings implicate potential targets for future treatments to limit SARS-CoV-2 infection and the inflammation of severe COVID-19.

Read the paper in Genome Biology →

Study Reveals New Genetic Markers of Liver Disease

Study Reveals New Genetic Markers of Liver Disease

A large genetic study has nearly doubled the number of gene variants linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), an increasingly common, metabolic and/or obesity-related — but often symptomless — condition that can lead to liver failure with cirrhosis and cancer. The researchers began by comparing the DNA of more than 200,000 U.S. veterans in the Million Veteran Program (MVP), some with suspiciously elevated liver enzyme levels without known causes. In this way, the scientists linked 77 DNA variants to the chronically elevated liver enzyme levels. NAFLD link was further confirmed in 17 DNA variants — eight of which had not been previously associated with NAFLD — among smaller cohorts of patients and controls. The findings bring a more complete picture of the biological causes of NAFLD, opening future prospects for therapeutics or genetic tests to identify patients with higher-than-normal NAFLD risk. The study, involving hundreds of researchers and funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of R&D (I01-BX003362), was led by VA-affiliated investigators at Penn including first author Marijana Vujkovic, PhD, a research assistant professor of Medicine, and senior authors Benjamin F. Voight, PhD, an associate professor of Genetics, and Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, Kyong-Mi Chang, MD, a professor of Medicine and associate dean for Research at the Crescenz VA Medical Center, in addition to Daniel Rader, MD, the Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine and chair of Genetics.

Read the paper in Nature Genetics →

TCF-1 Protein Plays Key Role in Development of T Cells

TCF-1 Protein Plays Key Role in Development of T Cells

The protein TCF-1 plays a role in helping different DNA segments to intermingle during T cell creation, a role that could shed new light on immunotherapy approaches that use T cells to fight cancer, according to a new study led by Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an associate professor of Genetics. Mammalian DNA is folded in 3D structures that keep different sections of DNA insulated from other sections in order to control the expression of different genes. Sometimes, these groupings need to intermingle because a piece of DNA in one area may be required to control and develop a unique set of genes in another. The co-binding of TCF-1, along with the protein CTCF, increases interactions across sections of the genome as T cells mature, indicating that TCF-1 plays an essential role in the development and maturation of T cells. Understanding this mechanism can help inform newer approaches to developing immunotherapies that aim to manipulate T cells for use as cancer-fighting drugs.

 Read the News Release →

 Read the paper in Nature Immunology →

University of Pennsylvania to Auction Off COVID-19 Vaccine NFT

University of Pennsylvania to Auction Off COVID-19 Vaccine NFT

To celebrate the mRNA vaccine breakthrough at the Perelman School of Medicine, the Wharton School’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, created a non-fungible token (NFT) that will be auctioned off by Christie’s in July. The NFT, which was also supported by the Penn Center for Innovation, includes an animated video explaining mRNA technology and unique notes from Weissman.

New York Post • Becker’s Hospital Review • Art Daily

The Topic of Cancer

The Topic of Cancer

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a lot of trial and error moments breaking down silos, refocusing resources, and paving a promising new path in the battle against cancer. According to Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, “there have been unprecedented changes in cancer care and cancer research with the pandemic.”

Business Journals

Scientists Behind mRNA Vaccines Win Tang Prize

Scientists Behind mRNA Vaccines Win Tang Prize

Penn Medicine mRNA scientists continue to receive accolades for their research that gave way to mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, and Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor in Neurosurgery, were awarded the 2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science from the Tang Prize Foundation in Taipei. The award recognizes the scientists’ perseverance and contributions to the world.

Taipei Times

COVID-19 Vaccine: Meet the Inventors Behind Pfizer and Moderna’s Shots

COVID-19 Vaccine: Meet the Inventors Behind Pfizer and Moderna’s Shots

Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, were awarded the Ross Prize from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Molecular Medicine at Northwell Health. “As you hear in my presentation, it’s not just me and Drew, but we agree on that hundreds of scientists contributed to the result,” said Karikó.

NBC New York

Cancer Trials Suggest Tantalizing New Benefits for Immunotherapies in More Patients

Cancer Trials Suggest Tantalizing New Benefits for Immunotherapies in More Patients

Immunotherapies have transformed treatment for some advanced cancers including melanoma, lung cancer, and blood cancers. In solid tumors, however, it remains a challenge, yet much research is under way. One study, called PRINCE, was presented during the 2022 American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting, and published in Nature Medicine, tested two chemotherapy drugs and immunotherapy showing a one-year survival rate of around 58 percent, compared with a historical average of 35 percent with chemotherapy alone. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center and study author, said, “This is the field’s biggest challenge — to identify which patients respond to which immunotherapies.”

Wall Street Journal


July 2022

Philadelphia Cell and Gene Therapy Jobs Increased 127 Percent Since 2019

Philadelphia Cell and Gene Therapy Jobs Increased 127 Percent Since 2019

The number of people in the Philadelphia region working in jobs tied to cell and gene therapy has more than doubled in less than three years, according to an updated life sciences industry workforce report released this week. The analysis evaluated the current employment landscape identifying future talent needs to boost the region’s standing as a key hub for cell and gene therapy. Penn Medicine researchers, led by Carl June, MD, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, developed what would become the first FDA approved CAR T-cell therapy for cancer, an achievement that occurred in 2017.

Philadelphia Business Journal

An NFT of a COVID-19 Vaccine Heads to Auction

An NFT of a COVID-19 Vaccine Heads to Auction

In July, Christie’s will be auctioning a non-fungible token (NFT) created by the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance at Wharton and by Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research. The NFT, the development of which was also supported by the Penn Center for Innovation, is a celebration of the mRNA vaccine technology breakthrough that happened at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Barron’s • Philly Voice

COVID-19 Is Making Flu and Other Common Viruses Act in Unfamiliar Ways

COVID-19 Is Making Flu and Other Common Viruses Act in Unfamiliar Ways

More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, familiar viruses are acting in unfamiliar ways. For example, the flu is back, but without one common lineage known as Yamagata, which hasn’t been spotted since early 2020. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, emphasized to the Washington Post why vaccines are more important than ever, as old viruses behave differently. “Even in years when vaccines are mismatched, there is some level of protection,” he said, “preventing hospitalizations and deaths.” Hensley also commented on flu trends to Bloomberg and TODAY.

Karikó and Weissman Receive Ross Prize for mRNA Research Collaboration

Karikó and Weissman Receive Ross Prize for mRNA Research Collaboration

Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, were recently awarded the Ross Prize from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Molecular Medicine at Northwell Health. “As you hear in my presentation, it’s not just me and Drew, but we agree on that hundreds of scientists contributed to the result,” Karikó said. Their honor was covered by NBC New York and Yahoo Finance. The researchers also recently received the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science from the Tang Prize Foundation. Read more in the Taipei Times.

See additional awards and accolades for faculty, staff and students. →

Four Penn Scientists Chosen as 2022 Pew Scholars

Four Penn Scientists Chosen as 2022 Pew Scholars

The Pew Charitable Trusts have named Maayan Levy, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology, a 2022 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust have also selected Alexander Huang, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology, and Chengcheng Jin, PhD, an assistant professor of Cancer Biology, as 2022 Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer ResearchJohn James Tello Cajiao, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, has been named a 2022 Pew Latin American Fellow in the Biomedical Sciences. Read the Penn Medicine news release about their selections.

U.S. Grapples With Whether to Modify COVID-19 Vaccine for Fall

U.S. Grapples With Whether to Modify COVID-19 Vaccine for Fall

Health authorities are facing a critical decision: whether to offer new COVID-19 booster shots this fall that are modified to better match the latest changes of the coronavirus. The top candidates are “bivalent” shots — a combination of the original vaccine plus omicron protection. That’s because the original vaccines do spur production of some virus-fighting antibodies strong enough to cross-react with newer mutants — in addition to their proven benefits against severe disease, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

U.S. News & World Report

TCF-1 Protein Plays Key Role in Development of T Cells

TCF-1 Protein Plays Key Role in Development of T Cells

The protein TCF-1 plays a role in helping different DNA segments to intermingle during T cell creation, a role that could shed new light on immunotherapy approaches that use T cells to fight cancer, according to a new study led by Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an associate professor of Genetics. Mammalian DNA is folded in 3D structures that keep different sections of DNA insulated from other sections in order to control the expression of different genes. Sometimes, these groupings need to intermingle because a piece of DNA in one area may be required to control and develop a unique set of genes in another. The co-binding of TCF-1, along with the protein CTCF, increases interactions across sections of the genome as T cells mature, indicating that TCF-1 plays an essential role in the development and maturation of T cells. Understanding this mechanism can help inform newer approaches to developing immunotherapies that aim to manipulate T cells for use as cancer-fighting drugs.

Read the News Release →

10 Groundbreaking Medical Innovations That Are Dramatically Changing Healthcare Outcomes

10 Groundbreaking Medical Innovations That Are Dramatically Changing Healthcare Outcomes

CAR T cell therapy tops the list of 10 groundbreaking medical innovations, according to Better magazine. David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence, said, “Imagine the cancer cell has velcro on the outside, but the patient doesn’t have the immune cell with that other piece of velcro to stick to it. With CAR T, the immune cells are taken out and genetically changed to have both pieces of velcro, and when cancer cells are nearby, they stick together and the T cell can now kill the cancer cells.”

Better

Penn Spinout Vittoria Biotherapeutics Emerges from Stealth Mode with $10M Seed Round

Penn Spinout Vittoria Biotherapeutics Emerges from Stealth Mode with $10M Seed Round

A Philadelphia life sciences company spun out of Penn is emerging from stealth mode with nearly $10 million from a seed funding round. Vittoria Biotherapeutics’ mission is to overcome limitations of CAR T cell therapy by using unique cell engineering and gene editing technologies to create new therapies that address unmet clinical needs. The technology the company is attempting to commercialize was developed by Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who is the company’s scientific founder.

Philadelphia Business Journal

Gene Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer: Experimental Approach Shrank Tumors in One Patient

Gene Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer: Experimental Approach Shrank Tumors in One Patient

An experimental treatment appears to have been successful in halting the progression of one woman's advanced pancreatic cancer, according to research published in the New England Journal of MedicineCarl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is quoted discussing the promise of the approach. 
NBC News

Penn’s First NFT Commemorates mRNA Research

Penn’s First NFT Commemorates mRNA Research

A non-fungible token, created by the Wharton School’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, will commemorate the mRNA vaccine breakthrough at the Perelman School of Medicine. It will be auctioned off by Christie’s from July 15-25. “What’s included in the NFT is an incredible animated video that demonstrates how the mRNA platform works, as well as a storyboard that explains what’s depicted,” said Craig Carnaroli, senior executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania, noting that the NFT symbolizes the impactful research that was pioneered at Penn which helped pave the way for mRNA COVID vaccines. The creation of the NFT was supported by the Penn Center for Innovation.

Penn Medicine News Release • Reuters • Philadelphia Business Journal

The Scientists Who Made the COVID-19 Vaccine Possible on How the Pandemic Will End

The Scientists Who Made the COVID-19 Vaccine Possible on How the Pandemic Will End

After receiving the Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and the journal Molecular MedicineKatalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, discussed their research collaboration in mRNA technology, the ongoing fight against COVID-19, and the application of RNA therapeutics for other diseases.

Teen Vogue

Why This Year’s Flu Season Is Abnormally Long

Why This Year’s Flu Season Is Abnormally Long

The U.S. flu season typically ends in the spring, but cases are still on the rise in much of the country, despite summer being around the corner. “Flu vaccines are clearly our best protection against influenza,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology. “Even in years when there are antigenic mismatches, flu vaccines prevent serious disease and death.”

TODAY

Blood-Based Immune Biomarkers Help Identify Pancreatic Cancer Chemoimmunotherapies

Blood-Based Immune Biomarkers Help Identify Pancreatic Cancer Chemoimmunotherapies

During the 2022 American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting, Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, discussed the results of the phase 2 randomized study of chemoimmunotherapy for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. He said, “What we found is evidence that chemotherapy and immunotherapy can work together and offer some patients some survival benefit. We are now studying who those patients are.”

Healio

A Better Way to Measure Immunity in Children

A Better Way to Measure Immunity in Children

Scientists have argued that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers should have been measuring T cells, which can kill infected cells and rid the body of the virus. That “would have allowed us to possibly make a different decision about allowing a vaccine to move forward earlier,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “If we don’t measure the T cells, we’re missing a big part of what’s happening.”

New York Times • New York Times (2)

COVID-19 Is Making Flu and Other Common Viruses Act in Unfamiliar Ways

COVID-19 Is Making Flu and Other Common Viruses Act in Unfamiliar Ways

More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, familiar viruses are acting in unfamiliar ways. For example, the flu is back, but without one common lineage known as Yamagata, which hasn’t been spotted since early 2020. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, emphasized why vaccines are more important than ever, as old viruses behave differently. “Even in years when vaccines are mismatched, there is some level of protection,” he said, “preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”

Washington Post

Penn Reinvesting COVID-19 Vaccine Royalties into Research

Penn Reinvesting COVID-19 Vaccine Royalties into Research

The University of Pennsylvania plans to use proceeds from patents connected to the COVID-19 vaccines for an expansion of scientific and medical research in Philadelphia, where Penn is already the main driver of the burgeoning cell and gene therapy sector. Those plans include a $350 million addition of laboratory space on top of 3600 Civic Center Blvd. Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, chemically modified mRNA to enable it to slip past the immune system so it could deliver its instructions, eventually paving the way for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. John S. Swartley, associate vice provost for Research and managing director of the Penn Center for Innovation, and Jonathan Epstein, chief scientific officer for Penn Medicine, were quoted, with Epstein suggesting that mRNA can lead to many new treatment options.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Australia’s Early Flu Season Shows Americans Need Their Shots

Australia’s Early Flu Season Shows Americans Need Their Shots

An early uptick in flu cases in Australia has public health officials concerned and should prompt the U.S. to put the familiar virus back on the public’s radar. In some parts of the country, last winter’s flu continues to circulate. “It is just wild that we sit here on June 2nd and still have substantial flu activity,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

Bloomberg

Penn Spinout Vittoria Biotherapeutics Emerges from Stealth Mode with $10M Seed Round

Penn Spinout Vittoria Biotherapeutics Emerges from Stealth Mode with $10M Seed Round

A Philadelphia life sciences company spun out of Penn is emerging from stealth mode with nearly $10 million from a seed funding round. Vittoria Biotherapeutics’ mission is to overcome limitations of CAR T cell therapy by using unique cell engineering and gene editing technologies to create new therapies that address unmet clinical needs. The technology the company is attempting to commercialize was developed by Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who is the company’s scientific founder.

Philadelphia Business Journal

mRNA Creators Studying Vaccines’ Myocarditis Risk

mRNA Creators Studying Vaccines’ Myocarditis Risk

On Tuesday, Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, received the Ross Prize from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at Northwell Health. The prize recognizes scientists who drive scientific understanding and treatment and whose work has potential for even more scientific breakthroughs.

Yahoo! Finance

Novavax Hopes its COVID Shot Wins Over FDA, Vaccine Holdouts

Novavax Hopes its COVID Shot Wins Over FDA, Vaccine Holdouts

Novavax is waiting for FDA approval on its mRNA vaccine which is a more generic vaccine compared to the mRNA COVID vaccines. The company thinks that some people will be more comfortable with their vaccine since it's a protein vaccine designed like most of the other vaccines people receive. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology & Translational Therapeutics, said that, with the data so far, the Novavax vaccine appears to be an "impressive protein vaccine."

Associated Press

‘Of Medicine And Miracles’: Documentary Highlighting Personalized Cancer Therapy Premieres at Tribeca

‘Of Medicine And Miracles’: Documentary Highlighting Personalized Cancer Therapy Premieres at Tribeca

The behind-the-scenes story detailing the pursuit of a transformative cancer cure unfolded onscreen at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this weekend. “Of Medicine and Miracles,” which premiered during the renowned festival, reveals decades of research — and one young patient’s family’s last hopes to save their daughter — that culminated in the world’s first CAR T-cell therapy. “It’s as close to a miracle as I’ve ever seen, and she came close to death many times,” said Carl June, MD, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, of then six-year-old leukemia patient Emily Whitehead, the first child to receive the experimental treatment. “And now there are more than 15,000 people who’ve been treated with what she first got here in Philadelphia.”

CBS3

The Coronavirus Will Likely Evade Paxlovid Eventually. What That Means is Unclear.

The Coronavirus Will Likely Evade Paxlovid Eventually. What That Means is Unclear.

It is likely that one day, COVID-19 will develop a resistance to the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, which could lead to worse outcomes for patients. Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, explained that it is difficult to know how many cases of resistance may already exist because there hasn't been a systematic approach to tracking it to this point.

PBS


June 2022

Three-Arm First-Line Chemoimmunotherapy Study in Patients With Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer

Markers for Pancreatic Cancer Linked With Better Responses to Chemoimmunotherapy

Combinations of chemotherapy and immunotherapy showed activity in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to findings from a national, randomized clinical trial presented during the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting and simultaneously published in Nature MedicineRobert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, the John H. Glick Abramson Cancer Center Professor and director of the Abramson Cancer Center, said, “We now hope to evaluate these potential biomarkers in further trials to see if they’ll enable us reliably to identify patients who will respond best to this and other combination therapies.”

ASCO Post

Local Infectious Disease Experts Say Monkeypox is Familiar and Preventable

Local Infectious Disease Experts Say Monkeypox is Familiar and Preventable

Stuart Isaacs, MD, an associate professor of Infectious Diseases, discussed the rise of the monkeypox virus. He said one of the reasons potentially for the spread in Africa is due to declining rates of vaccination against smallpox. While he acknowledges spread, he does not think this virus will rise to the level of SARS-CoV-2.

WHYY

Reprogrammed Cells Attack and Tame Deadly Cancer in One Woman

Reprogrammed Cells Attack and Tame Deadly Cancer in One Woman

Data published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that researchers have found a way to tame pancreatic cancer in a woman whose disease was far advanced and after other forms of treatment had failed. The experiment involved genetically reprogramming the patient's T cells to recognize and kill cancer cells targeting a mutated protein called KRAS, the culprit in about 95% of pancreas cancers. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, Phil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, who was not involved with the research, said that researchers "have been trying to target KRAS immunologically for more than 20 years." Killing cancer cells by attacking cells with KRAS mutations has "major implications."

The New York Times

Biomarker Strategies Show Potential for Guiding Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Biomarker Strategies Show Potential for Guiding Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

A combination of chemotherapy with an immunotherapy meant to unleash the anticancer capacity of the immune system was effective against pancreatic cancer in a national, randomized clinical trial led by Abramson Cancer Center researchers, including Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, the John H. Glick Abramson Cancer Center Professor and director of the Abramson Cancer Center.

Penn Medicine News Release • Precision Oncology News

UB Medical School Hosts Two Leading Doctors in the Covid-19 Fight

University of Pennsylvania to Auction Off COVID-19 Vaccine NFT

The University of Buffalo will host Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, to recognize his, and his research partner's, contributions to the mRNA platform on which two effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines were built. Weissman will speak at a public talk there over the weekend.

The Buffalo News

Monkeypox and COVID-19 Are Different in Almost Every Way You Can Imagine

Monkeypox and COVID-19 Are Different in Almost Every Way You Can Imagine

Stuart Isaacs, MD, of Infectious Diseases and an expert on pox viruses, shared facts about the monkeypox virus and the recent cases of the virus that have been reported mainly in Europe. “There seems to be some more human-to-human transmission than we might expect,” Isaacs said.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Genetic Variants May Help Explain the Variability in COVID-19 Severity

Genetic Variants May Help Explain the Variability in COVID-19 Severity

Though underlying medical conditions play an important role, many aspects of why COVID-19 severity can differ vastly from one to another has remained unclear. A new study identifies dozens of genomic variations that may drive these hard-to-predict differences in clinical outcomes. According to work led by Penn Medicine scientists, including co-author Sarah Tishkoff, PhD, the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology, genomic variants in four genes that are critical to SARS-CoV-2 infection, including the ACE2 gene, were targets of natural selection and associated with health conditions seen in COVID-19 patients.

News-Medical.Net

Evusheld Offers Vulnerable Americans Protection from COVID-19. Getting It Has Been Complicated.

Evusheld Offers Vulnerable Americans Protection from COVID-19. Getting It Has Been Complicated.

It’s been about six months since the pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca released the COVID-19 antibody treatment Evusheld, which is designed to help people with weak immune systems. Aimee Payne, MD, PhD, a professor of Dermatology and director of the Clinical Autoimmunity Center of Excellence, specializes in the rare autoimmune disease pemphigus vulgaris, which can cause fatal blistering. Its treatment can wipe out a large part of the immune system, so the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t appear to give her patients full protection. “Some of them agreed immediately. Some of them had additional questions,” Payne said of Evusheld.

Marketplace

New Cancer Vaccine Bludgeons a Tumor’s Defenses Better Than Ever

New Cancer Vaccine Bludgeons a Tumor’s Defenses Better Than Ever

A new study in Nature unveiled a cancer vaccine that prevents a tumor from evading immune cells. Early results indicate that the vaccine could be the first step towards creating a universal cancer shot potentially used alongside conventional cancer therapies and may prevent patients from relapsing. Andy Minn, MD, PhD, a professor of Radiation Oncology, who was not involved with the study, said, “We’re still a long way off from bringing this vaccine to the clinic...but future clinical trials are required to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective in humans. If successful, it holds the promise of helping countless patients beat their battles with cancer.”

The Daily Beast

Better Fat Bubbles Could Power a New Generation of mRNA Vaccines

Better Fat Bubbles Could Power a New Generation of mRNA Vaccines

Science reported on a key part of mRNA vaccines: lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), which are tiny bubbles of fat that help carry mRNA into the body. Mohamad-Gabriel Alameh, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, studied an LNP similar to the one used in the BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Alameh found that it can cause desired and undesired inflammatory effects. The goal now is to design ionizable lipids that activate favorable immune pathways without overstimulating detrimental ones.

Read More

Immunology of Glioblastoma Tumors Differ at Diagnosis and Recurrence

Immunology of Glioblastoma Tumors Differ at Diagnosis and Recurrence

Glioblastoma is a cancer that responds poorly to immunotherapy. Research led by Gregory Beatty, MD, director of the Clinical and Translational Research Program at the Penn Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, now shows that the body’s immune response to glioblastoma differs at the time of diagnosis and at recurrence. Looking inside the tumor helped to better understand its inner workings, by which the immune system and cancer interact. At the time of recurrence, T cells were enriched and activated in perivascular regions, and associated with longer survival. These findings suggest that these perivascular T cells might be potential therapeutic targets.

Read the paper in Cancer Immunology Research →

“Keto” Molecule May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Colorectal Cancer

“Keto” Molecule May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Colorectal Cancer

A molecule produced in the liver in response to starvation or to low-carb “ketogenic” diets has a powerful effect in suppressing colorectal tumor growth and may be useful as a preventive and treatment of such cancers. Researchers initially found that mice on low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diets have a striking resistance to colorectal tumor development and growth. The scientists traced this effect to a starvation-induced small organic molecule beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). The team showed that BHB slows the growth of gut cells by activating a surface receptor called Hcar2. This, in turn, stimulates the expression of a growth-slowing gene, Hopx. The study was led by Maayan Levy, PhD, and Christoph Thaiss, PhD, both assistant professors of Microbiology, and Oxana Dmitrieva-Posocco, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Levy’s lab.

Read the News Release →

The Search for Longer-lasting COVID-19 Vaccines

The Search for Longer-lasting COVID-19 Vaccines

There are still many questions left to answer about COVID-19 vaccines and immunology, said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. Those questions include: How long do memory B cells and memory T cells last? Why do different people respond differently to these vaccines? “These and many more questions still need answers if we are going to use this platform most effectively,” Wherry noted.

CNN

Pfizer’s Grip on Paxlovid Thwarts Research on COVID-19 Treatment

Pfizer’s Grip on Paxlovid Thwarts Research on COVID-19 Treatment

Pfizer Inc. is resisting requests for study supplies of its COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, disappointing researchers. They have not started any new combination trials in patients and researchers are saying they can’t get the drug for human studies that could maintain or improve its effectiveness and expand use. “Unfortunately what is going to happen is the combinations will start as soon as we start seeing resistance,” predicts Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who’s studying COVID-19 drug cocktails in her lab.

Bloomberg

What Does ‘Protection’ Against COVID-19 Really Mean?

What Does ‘Protection’ Against COVID-19 Really Mean?

Last month, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, along with researchers, physicians, and biotech representatives sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to monitor T cells — alongside antibody levels — to better assess immunity to determine the effectiveness of new vaccines undergoing review by regulators. Wherry spoke with Scientific American about T cell measurement and why it is important for vaccine studies.

Scientific American

Rapid Manufacturing Process Allows CAR T Cells to be Produced in Less Than a Day

Rapid Manufacturing Process Allows CAR T Cells to be Produced in Less Than a Day

In a Penn Medicine study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers were able to shorten the time it takes to manufacture CAR-T cells in the lab, from nearly two weeks down to one day. According to lead author Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, “A major goal was to determine whether we really need to activate T cells prior to infusion. The result is a more potent therapy manufactured from the patient’s fresh blood cells through a more efficient process.”

Cell Therapy Next

Should Parents Wait to Get the COVID-19 Booster for Their Children?

Should Parents Wait to Get the COVID-19 Booster for Their Children?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, answered questions after the FDA authorized COVID-19 boosters for kids ages 5-11. “This is great news,” Wherry said. “About 1,000 kids have died from COVID-19 over the pandemic, so kids are really at risk.” He also discussed the amount of disinformation out there on vaccines, which has contributed to vaccine hesitancy.

FOX29 • 6ABC

The U.S. Is About to Make a Big Gamble on Our Next COVID-19 Winter

The U.S. Is About to Make a Big Gamble on Our Next COVID-19 Winter

Experts are expected to choose a vaccine recipe for the fall, when omicron may or may not still be the globe’s dominant variant. Commenting on a potential omicron-only vaccine, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was one of several scientists who said it would be safer to keep something with the original variant.

The Atlantic

A Silver Lining for Those Who Have Been Infected by Omicron

A Silver Lining for Those Who Have Been Infected by Omicron

People who are vaccinated and then get infected with omicron may be primed to overcome a broad range of coronavirus variants, judging from early research. “We should think about breakthrough infections as essentially equivalent to another dose of vaccine,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Bloomberg • Bloomberg (2)

Notable Health Studies & Research: Penn Medicine’s Bladder Cancer Research

Notable Health Studies & Research: Penn Medicine’s Bladder Cancer Research

The first bladder cancer drug targeting a cancer-driving gene mutation has been used relatively little despite its clear efficacy, according to a new study from Penn Medicine. The study was led by Vivek Nimgaonkar, a PSOM student and graduate associate with the Penn Center for Precision Medicine, and co-authors Ronac Mamtani, MD, and Erica Carpenter, MBA, PhD, both assistant professors of Hematology-Oncology. Carpenter is also director of the Liquid Biopsy Laboratory.

Penn Medicine News Release • StudyFinds

These Nanobots Can Swim Around a Wound and Kill Bacteria

These Nanobots Can Swim Around a Wound and Kill Bacteria

Researchers created autonomous particles covered with patches of protein “motors,” with a hope that these bots could tote lifesaving drugs through bodily fluids in the future. In a recent study, they loaded silica nanobots with experimental antibiotics to treat infected wounds on mice. “The machines can actually travel around the wound and clear the infection as they go,” explained ‪César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Bioengineering, and co-lead on the project.

Wired

“Keto” Molecule May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Colorectal Cancer

“Keto” Molecule May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Colorectal Cancer

We are all familiar with the keto diet — a low carb, high fat diet which makes your body enter ketosis, or a metabolic state during which your body burns fat for energy instead of carbs. According to a recent study led by Maayan Levy, PhD, and Christoph Thaiss, PhD, both assistant professors of Microbiology, and Oxana Dmitrieva-Posocco, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Levy’s lab, the liver reacts to ketosis by producing a molecule called beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB.

Woman’s World


May 2022

What’s NEX-T for CAR T, Plus its Strategy for Next-Gen Cancer Cell Therapy?

Rapid Manufacturing Process Allows CAR T Cells to be Produced in Less Than a Day

Cell therapy as a field is moving to find new ways to improve the way autologous therapies are manufactured. Some of that innovation is coming from Penn, where the first approved CAR T treatment, Kymriah, was initially developed. Penn recently unveiled a shortened manufacturing process that yields functional CAR T cells in 24 hours. That research was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering and led by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Saba Ghassemi, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

MedCityNews

It Feels Like Everyone Is Non-COVID Sick Right Now. What Gives?

It Feels Like Everyone Is Non-COVID Sick Right Now. What Gives?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing how the immune system works and how babies’ immune systems differ from adult ones. “Your immune system has layers to it,” Wherry said. “Think about it a bit like LEGO blocks.”

Scary Mommy

U.S. May Default to Annual COVID-19 Boosters Without Sufficient Data

U.S. May Default to Annual COVID-19 Boosters Without Sufficient Data

Last week experts signed a letter urging the FDA to put more emphasis on assessing additional parts of the immune response to COVID-19 vaccines, arguing that measuring T cells is critical to understanding long-lasting vaccine protection. “I think there are a lot of forces here that have had us almost myopically assessing antibodies as the guiding force in what immune measurements are most important,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, one of the letter writers. “The antibody trajectories don’t explain the fact that nobody’s ending up in the hospital.”

STAT News

The Quest for a Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

The Quest for a Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

As vaccine makers rush to stamp out new COVID-19 variants, some scientists have set their sights higher, aiming for a universal coronavirus vaccine that could tackle any future strains and possibly even stave off another pandemic. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, who was a pioneer of the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines, is leading one such project. “We may have a universal vaccine in two or three years, but we’re going to have to keep working on it and changing it over time to keep ahead of the virus,” Weissman said.

International Business Times

Scientists Urge FDA to Assess T-Cell Levels In COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis

Scientists Urge FDA to Assess T-Cell Levels In COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis

More than 60 scientists from across the United States have signed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to include T cells as a measurement of effectiveness for COVID-19 vaccines, instead of just looking at antibodies. While antibodies protect against initial infection, T-cells protect against hospitalization, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, one of the letter writers.

Inside Health Policy • Boston Globe • Biospace

COVID-19 Vaccine’s mRNA Technology Also Works for an HIV Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine’s mRNA Technology Also Works for an HIV Vaccine

 

WHYY highlighted research from Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, which found that the mRNA vaccine platform can work to prevent HIV. Because the virus mutates quickly, it can be difficult to create a vaccine for it. Weissman and colleagues determined how to stabilize the rapidly changing envelope of the virus and then make antibodies.

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster, if Eligible?

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster, if Eligible?

The FDA has authorized additional COVID-19 shots for older Americans and those with certain immune deficiencies. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Immunology, spoke about the news to a wide variety of media outlets, including the Associated PressCBS News, and The Atlantic, among others. “I’m a firm believer in vaccines. I like the idea of physicians and immunocompromised and high-risk patients having options,” Wherry told the New York TimesWHYY also highlighted findings from a recent Cell study by Wherry and colleagues that demonstrated the utility of boosters, especially against the omicron variant.

Untangling the Origins of a Human Malaria Parasite

Untangling the Origins of a Human Malaria Parasite

It has been known for about a century that chimpanzees are infected by parasites that appeared indistinguishable from Plasmodium malariae, one of six parasites that spread malaria in humans. The parasite that infected chimpanzees was named Plasmodium rodhaini but, for decades, experts debated whether the two parasites represented one or two species, and what, if any, evolutionary links existed between the two. Now, Penn researchers including Beatrice Hahn, MD, a professor of Medicine and Microbiology, and colleagues with the University of Edinburgh reveal that Plasmodium malariae originated in African apes before evolving to colonize humans.

Read the paper in Nature Communications

Researchers Cut CAR T Manufacturing Time Down to 24 Hours

Researchers Cut CAR T Manufacturing Time Down to 24 Hours

Penn Medicine researchers have found a way to reduce the time it takes to alter patients’ immune cells for infusion back into the body to find and attack cancer. Preclinical research demonstrates that the cell manufacturing process for CAR T immunotherapy, which typically takes nine to 14 days, can be decreased to just 24 hours. The study was led by Center for Cellular Immunotherapies researchers Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Saba Ghassemi, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. These results demonstrate the potential for a vast reduction in the time, materials, and labor required to generate CAR T cells, which could be especially beneficial in patients with rapidly progressive disease and in resource-poor health care environments.

Read the News Release

Bimekizumab Treatment Shows Promise in Moderate to Severe Plaque Psoriasis

Bimekizumab Treatment Shows Promise in Moderate to Severe Plaque Psoriasis

At the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) annual meeting, new data were presented on bimekizumab for the treatment of adults with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, which has not yet recieved FDA approval. Joel Gelfand, MD, a professor in Dermatology, joined a panel to discuss this information and what the potential is for the treatment.

MedPage Today

CAR-T Cell Therapy Documentary Set to Premiere at Tribeca Festival

CAR-T Cell Therapy Documentary Set to Premiere at Tribeca Festival

A documentary about the development of CAR-T cell therapy will premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Titled “Of Medicine and Miracles,” the film follows the story of Emily Whitehead, a young leukemia patient, as she enters a long-shot trial designed by a collaborative clinical team at Penn Medicine and CHOP. Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Bruce Levine, PhD, the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy, and David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence, are featured in the film.

Variety

When the Science Is Messy: How SciCheck Handles Scientific Disputes

When the Science Is Messy: How SciCheck Handles Scientific Disputes

Many experts agree that we don’t know what the future will hold when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a piece explaining scientific fact-checking, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s to be humble about the virus. And to be very, very careful about making predictions.”

FactCheck.org

COVID-19 Prevention Must Extend Beyond Vaccines for Patients Receiving Cell Therapies

COVID-19 Prevention Must Extend Beyond Vaccines for Patients Receiving Cell Therapies

COVID-19 infection mitigation is essential for patients with hematologic malignancies because they are at increased risk for severe infection, hospitalization, and mortality if they contract the virus. David L. Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the Abramson Cancer Center, discussed vaccine efficacy, COVID-19 treatment options, and other ways that cell therapy recipients can take precautions during the pandemic. “Moving forward, as the incidence of COVID-19 goes down and our preventive and treatment strategies get better, patients will be freer to resume a more normal life,” he said.

Healio

$10 Million Gift from the Abramson Family Foundation Supports Abramson Cancer Center Research Efforts

$10 Million Gift from the Abramson Family Foundation Supports Abramson Cancer Center Research Efforts

A generous $10 million gift from the Abramson Family Foundation will help ensure Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center remains on the leading edge of cancer research and care. In recognition of the gift, the lobby of the new Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania will be named in memory of the late Emeritus Trustee Madlyn K. Abramson, ED’57, GED’60, who passed away in 2020. The Abramson family has a long legacy of championing cancer care and research at Penn Medicine. Over the past several decades, they have given more than $163 million to the Abramson Cancer Center, moved by a vision to support the bold ideas and patient-centered approaches that have propelled the center to its global reputation as a leader in cancer care and research. J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, and Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of Abramson Cancer Center, were quoted.

Penn Medicine News Release • Philadelphia Business Journal

Six COVID-19 Mysteries Experts Hope to Unravel

Six COVID-19 Mysteries Experts Hope to Unravel

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing hybrid immunity and those who have not had COVID-19 yet. He noted that omicron as a first infection might not give people the immunity weapons that would be helpful later. “Omicron infection in previously unvaccinated, previously uninfected individuals seems to do quite poorly in inducing antibodies that can efficiently cross-neutralize other variants.”

STAT

A Decade of CAR T Cell Therapy

A Decade of CAR T Cell Therapy

Research and development of CAR T cell therapy, which was pioneered at Penn Medicine, has exploded, with hundreds of clinical trials underway across a variety of specialties, including blood and solid cancers, HIV, autoimmune diseases, and even heart attacks. In this feature on the history and future of CAR T, various faculty were highlighted, including Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Aimee Payne, MD, PhD, a professor of Dermatology; Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research; and Jonathan Epstein, MD, chief scientific officer for Penn Medicine and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Cardiovascular Research.

Chemistry World

Do You Need a Second COVID-19 Booster? ‘It Depends,’ Penn Medicine Experts Say

Do You Need a Second COVID-19 Booster? ‘It Depends,’ Penn Medicine Experts Say

In a study published earlier this month, Penn Medicine researchers found that two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine generate significant antibodies. Though they wane over time, the researchers found that memory B cells are long lasting. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, and one of the study’s authors, explained what this means for people eligible for another booster and the implications for others.

WHYY

Penn Medicine Appoints Robert Vonderheide to Second Five-Year Term as Director of the Abramson Cancer Center

Blood-Based Immune Biomarkers Help Identify Pancreatic Cancer Chemoimmunotherapies

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, has been appointed to a second five-year term as director of the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) at the University of Pennsylvania, following a highly successful tenure.

Read More: Penn Medicine News Release

Q&A on Second COVID-19 Boosters for Older People

Q&A on Second COVID-19 Boosters for Older People

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, answered questions about the FDA’s approval for a second COVID-19 booster for older people. “I think having more options on the table for people is good. It gives physicians a little more choice and ease of recommending a fourth shot if they think it’s necessary,” Wherry said. But, he said, there is little to suggest that second boosters are needed for some of the eligible population.

FactCheck.org

Could a Single Vaccine Fend Off All Versions of COVID-19? Here’s Where the Science Stands

Could a Single Vaccine Fend Off All Versions of COVID-19? Here’s Where the Science Stands

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, is working to develop a pancoronavirus vaccine, a vaccine that would offer protection from all types of coronaviruses like COVID-19, SARS, and others. “We’ve had three coronavirus epidemics in the last 20 years,” he said. “That tells us we’re going to have more...We can wait for the next one to appear and rush to make a new vaccine and shut the world down for a year and a half. Or we can make one now so it’s ready to go.”

San Francisco Chronicle • Business Insider

New Liquid Biopsy Method Infers RNA Expression From DNA Fragmentation Analysis

New Liquid Biopsy Method Infers RNA Expression From DNA Fragmentation Analysis

A study published in Nature Biotechnology profiling circulating tumor DNA in the bloodstream shows promise for noninvasive cancer detection. Newly emerging mutations in cancer genes could allow oncologists to adjust precision medicine treatments to fit the evolving tumor progression without having to re-biopsy tissue. Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an associate professor of Genetics, who was not involved with the study, said she is looking forward to this approach being used in other disease areas including autoimmune, and thinks the technique could have far-ranging applications.

Genome Web

40 Under 40: Meet the 2022 Honorees

40 Under 40: Meet the 2022 Honorees

Each year, the Philadelphia Business Journalrecognizes 40 remarkable individuals under the age of 40 who are making their mark on the region. This year, the honorees include David Fajgenbaum, MD, co-founder and executive director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network and an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics, and Christina Furia, senior associate director of External Manufacturing at the Gene Therapy Program.

Philadelphia Business Journal • Philadelphia Business Journal (2)

Next-Gen Vaccines Poised to Intercept Cancers

The Topic of Cancer

A new generation of cancer-preventing vaccines could stop tumors before they start. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, and his team are testing a DNA-based vaccine targeting hTERT, an antigen that marks many tumors in patients in remission from cancers who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The goal? To mobilize T cells to recognize and kill tumor cells, and find a way to judge efficacy of these new vaccines, such as through biomarkers that could detect, for instance, a change in blood-borne immune cells. “This is formidable,” Vonderheide says. “But we’re inspired because the impact will be massive.”

Science

CAR T-Cell Development Time Undergoes Significant Reduction

CAR T-Cell Development Time Undergoes Significant Reduction

Penn investigators may have unlocked a method of developing CAR T-cell therapy while significantly reducing the production time, according to results of a preclinical study recently published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Typically, manufacturing cells for this type of immunotherapy requires between 9 to 14 days. The study, led by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, had researchers develop infusion-ready cells with antitumor potency to decrease the manufacturing to less than 24 hours.

Oncology Nursing News

Apremilast’s Effect on CVD Risk Markers Evaluated in Study

Apremilast’s Effect on CVD Risk Markers Evaluated in Study

New research from Joel Gelfand, MD, director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center, showed that while the psoriasis drug apremilast did not decrease vascular inflammation, it cut body fat without affecting weight.

Medscape

Study Reveals How COVID-19 Infections Can Set Off Massive Inflammation in the Body

Study Reveals How COVID-19 Infections Can Set Off Massive Inflammation in the Body

A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect certain kinds of immune cells called monocytes and macrophages. “I think what was interesting about this is it could provide a clue and perhaps even some druggable targets for why some of the inflammation that we see in severe COVID-19 patients might get kick started the wrong way or proceed out of control,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, who was not involved in the study.

CNN

Karikó and Weissman Receive Gairdner Award for Foundational Research

Karikó and Weissman Receive Gairdner Award for Foundational Research

Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, were awarded the Gairdner Award for their mRNA research that gave way to Pfizer/BioNTech’s and Moderna’s respective mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Canadian researcher Peter Cullis also received the award for his COVID-vaccine work.

Toronto Star

Innovation In CAR T Cell Therapy Manufacturing

Innovation In CAR T Cell Therapy Manufacturing

Data published in Nature Biomedical Engineeringshows how Penn researchers in the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, led by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Saba Ghassemi, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, have been able to generate non-activated CAR-T cells in less than 24 hours in animal studies. According to Ghassemi, “this innovative approach shifts the CAR T manufacturing paradigm by simplifying, expediting, and making CAR T cell therapy more affordable.”

Cell and Gene

Research Still Needed on CAR T Cells in Solid Tumors

Research Still Needed on CAR T Cells in Solid Tumors

Steven M. Albelda, MD, the William Maul Measey Professor of Medicine, discussed the successes and downfalls of chimeric antigen receptor T cells in solid tumor research. The FDA has approved various CAR T-cell agents to treat hematologic malignancies over the past few years and more continue to be developed and evaluated in clinical trials. However, the solid tumor field has not had any CAR T-cell agents receive regulatory approval.

Targeted Oncology

A Team at Penn Says It Has Slashed CAR-T Cell Therapy Manufacturing Timeframe to Just 24 Hours

A Team at Penn Says It Has Slashed CAR-T Cell Therapy Manufacturing Timeframe to Just 24 Hours

Penn researchers have found a way to reduce the time it takes to alter immune cells for infusion back into the body to find and attack cancer. Pre-clinical research published in Nature Biomedical Engineeringdemonstrates that CAR T cell therapy, which typically takes nine to 14 days to manufacture, has been decreased to just 24 hours, which could be especially beneficial in patients with rapidly progressive disease and in resource-poor healthcare environments. The research was led by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Saba Ghassemi, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

EndPointsNews • European Pharmaceutical Review • MedPage Today

Psoriasis Therapy Has Mixed Effects on Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Apremilast’s Effect on CVD Risk Markers Evaluated in Study

Joel Gelfand, MD, director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center, presented research results at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting. Gelfand and colleagues found that the psoriasis drug apremilast did not curb vascular inflammation but did decrease body fat without affecting weight. Gelfand said more research is needed to validate their results.

MedPage Today • Healio

Research on Mice That ‘Sweat Out’ Fat Wins STAT Madness

Research on Mice That ‘Sweat Out’ Fat Wins STAT Madness

A team of Penn Medicine researchers under the leadership of Taku Kambayashi, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and medical student Ruth Choa, PhD, have won the 2022 STAT Madness competition. The bracket-style tournament hosted by STAT aims to find the best innovations in science and medicine. Penn garnered 71 percent of the vote in the final round, and were a crowd favorite of the audience at the STAT Breakthrough Science Summit last week.

STAT News • STAT News (2) • Philadelphia Inquirer


April 2022

A Second COVID-19 Booster Can’t Hurt — But It May Not Help Much, Either

A Second COVID-19 Booster Can’t Hurt — But It May Not Help Much, Either

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with The Atlantic about the FDA’s recent decision for Americans older than 50 to get a second booster shot. Wherry explained considerations to keep in mind.

The Atlantic

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss the newly authorized second booster COVID-19 vaccine and the new omicron subvariant BA.2.

FOX29

Researchers Manufacture Functional CAR T Cells in 24 Hours

Researchers Manufacture Functional CAR T Cells in 24 Hours

A new approach from Penn researchers could cut the time it takes to alter patients’ immune cells for infusion back into the body to find and attack cancer. According to pre-clinical research in Nature Biomedical Engineering, CAR T cell therapy, which was pioneered at Penn and typically takes nine to 14 days, has been reduced to just 24 hours. Research was led by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Saba Ghassemi, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Technology Networks

Penn’s Latest CAR-T Work Taps Llamas to Home in on Gastrointestinal Tumors

Penn’s Latest CAR-T Work Taps Llamas to Home in on Gastrointestinal Tumors

The lack of a tumor-specific biomarker poses one major challenge for the development of CAR-T cell therapies for solid tumors. However, new research from the Abramson Cancer Center led by Xianxin Hua, MD, PhD, a professor of Cancer Biology, Zijie Feng, a research scientist in Cancer Biology, and Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, identified a cell surface protein that could be used for CAR-T therapy against hard-to-treat solid tumors, including gastrointestinal cancers and neuroendocrine tumors, with help from llama-derived nanobodies.

FierceBiotech • Drug Target Review

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster?

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster?

The FDA has authorized additional COVID-19 shots for older Americans and those with certain immune deficiencies. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about the news, and who needs the dose and when. “I’m a firm believer in vaccines. I like the idea of physicians and immunocompromised and high-risk patients having options,” Wherry said.

New York Times • Bloomberg • CBS3 • Associated Press • CBS News • KYW Newsradio • Boston Herald

Efforts Underway to Develop Vaccines to Protect Against All Coronaviruses

Efforts Underway to Develop Vaccines to Protect Against All Coronaviruses

Insider wrote about how slowly vaccines are developed under normal circumstances and compared that to the speed that the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. In order to be ready for future coronavirus threats, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, is developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all coronaviruses. He hopes to move into human trials next year, he said.

Business Insider

What to Know About Omicron Subvariant BA.2

What to Know About Omicron Subvariant BA.2

Omicron subvariant BA.2 has now gained a foothold across the United States, accounting for one-third of new cases nationwide, and more than half of cases in New England as of Saturday, the CDC said. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, said that BA.2 might cause less disease here than it did in Europe, as the United States saw many more infections in the first wave of omicron.

Philadelphia Inquirer

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss the newly authorized second booster COVID-19 vaccine and the new omicron subvariant BA.2.

FOX29

Scientists Test Common Bacteria as a Weapon to Target Pancreatic Tumors

Scientists Test Common Bacteria as a Weapon to Target Pancreatic Tumors

According to a new study, Listeria bacteria was used to develop an immunotherapy to make pancreatic tumors vulnerable to immune attacks, and showed a 40 percent improvement in patient survival. Pancreatic cancer cells have few unique markers that help the immune system distinguish it from normal, healthy cells. Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Hematology-Oncology, who was not involved with the study, said, “Pancreas cancer is invisible to the immune system and using Listeria to implant a tetanus protein on cancer cells is a unique strategy.”

STAT News

Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots for COVID-19. Not So Fast, Experts Say.

Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots for COVID-19. Not So Fast, Experts Say.

On March 15, Pfizer shared it was seeking authorization of a second booster for people 65 and older, and Moderna on March 17 filed for a second booster shot for all adults — creating pressure for politicians and their scientific advisers to act. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted.

Kaiser Health News

The Incredible Story of Emily Whitehead & CAR T-Cell Therapy

The Incredible Story of Emily Whitehead & CAR T-Cell Therapy

Ten years ago, then 6-year-old patient Emily Whitehead was treated for cancer by a collaborative medical team at Penn and CHOP with Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, becoming the first child to get the personalized cell therapy. Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, said, “We now have trials using different cell types, like natural killer cells, monocytes, and stem cells. An entirely new field has opened because of our initial success. This is going to continue for a long time, making more potent cells that cover all kinds of cancer.”

Oncology Times

CAR T-Cell Therapy Shows ‘Limited Success’ in Solid Tumors, But ‘Incremental Changes’ Still Being Made

CAR T-Cell Therapy Shows ‘Limited Success’ in Solid Tumors, But ‘Incremental Changes’ Still Being Made

Steven M. Albelda, MD, the William Maul Measey Professor of Medicine, discussed the introduction of chimeric antigen receptor T cells in solid tumor research and how it differs from what has been observed in hematologic malignancies.

Targeted Oncology

Omicron Subvariant Could Become Dominant Strain in US

Omicron Subvariant Could Become Dominant Strain in US

Health officials are keeping a close eye on the omicron subvariant that is behind a COVID-19 surge in parts of Europe and Asia. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, is quoted.

KYW Newsradio

COVID-19’s ‘Silver Lining’: Research Breakthroughs for Chronic Disease, Cancer, and the Common Flu

COVID-19’s ‘Silver Lining’: Research Breakthroughs for Chronic Disease, Cancer, and the Common Flu

The billions of dollars invested in COVID-19 vaccines and research so far are expected to yield medical and scientific dividends for decades, helping doctors battle influenza, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and far more diseases. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted, discussing research from the pandemic which represented a paradigm shift in immunology.

Kaiser Health News

Our Antibodies Can Tell Us About Future COVID-19 Surges

Our Antibodies Can Tell Us About Future COVID-19 Surges

While the coronavirus is tracked to see how it changes over time, experts discuss monitoring immunity too. Monitoring the status of our anti-disease protection would amount to a kind of immune surveillance that could tell us “when immunity wanes, and when it needs to be augmented,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

The Atlantic

Pfizer and BioNTech Seek Authorization of a Second Booster Shot for Older Americans

Pfizer and BioNTech Seek Authorization of a Second Booster Shot for Older Americans

New research from Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, published in Cell Reports, found that the mRNA vaccine platform can work to prevent HIV. Because the virus mutates quickly, it can be difficult to create a vaccine for it. Weissman and colleagues determined how to stabilize the rapidly changing envelope of the virus and then make antibodies.

WHYY

The Long-Term Effects of CAR-T Cell Therapy

The Long-Term Effects of CAR-T Cell Therapy

There are patients who remain in remission beyond 10 years after first receiving CAR-T cell therapy, according to a study published in NatureDavid Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation, said, “We were able to collect T-cells from their blood 10 years after their first treatment to understand their characteristics and activity. The hope is that if we understand what kind of cells survive and continue to function, we will better understand how this therapy works, and then will be able to design even better, more effective therapies for future use.”

RegMedNet

Remembering the COVID-19 Shutdown in Philadelphia Two Years Later

Remembering the COVID-19 Shutdown in Philadelphia Two Years Later

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss the pandemic since COVID-19 shut down Philadelphia two years ago and the latest with omicron’s subvariant.

FOX29

COVID-19 Vaccine’s mRNA Technology Also Works for HIV Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine’s mRNA Technology Also Works for HIV Vaccine

New research from Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, published in Cell Reports, found that the mRNA vaccine platform can work to prevent HIV. Because the virus mutates quickly, it can be difficult to create a vaccine for it. Weissman and colleagues determined how to stabilize the rapidly changing envelope of the virus and then make antibodies.

WHYY

How Do We Get to the Pandemic’s ‘Next Normal’?

How Do We Get to the Pandemic’s ‘Next Normal’?

Fifty-three of the world’s top epidemiologists, pharmacologists, virologists, immunologists, and policy experts came together to map out strategies for living with COVID-19, under the leadership of Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, vice provost for Global Initiatives. “It’s really about getting to what we’re calling the next normal,” explained one of the roadmap’s experts E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

WHYY • Philly Voice

Genome Refolding Contributes to Cancer Therapy Resistance

Genome Refolding Contributes to Cancer Therapy Resistance

In T-cell leukemia, an epigenetic adaptation could be a key factor in disease relapse. While gene mutations can lead to drug resistance, Penn researchers have identified an important, non-genetic adaptation that could also drive resistance to targeted therapy in T cell leukemia, a type of blood cell cancer. Their findings were published in Molecular Cell. “Genome folding controls where the genes are in the space of the cell and is important for proper control of gene activity,” said R. Babak Faryabi, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He led the study with Yeqiao Zhou, a Genetics and Epigenetics graduate student.

Technology.org

How Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó Developed the mRNA Technology Inside COVID Vaccines

How Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó Developed the mRNA Technology Inside COVID Vaccines

Bostonia, Boston University’s alumni magazine, profiled their alumnus Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, and his long-time collaborator, Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery. Both researchers’ decades of research into mRNA gave way to an effective mRNA vaccine platform that was used in Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s respective vaccines. “It (the vaccine platform) really is exciting. It’s limitless.”

Bostonia

The Coronavirus’s Next Move

The Coronavirus’s Next Move

Even if COVID-19 remakes itself many times, its offense will still knock up against some multilayered defenses. Slipping out of the grasp of antibodies isn’t that hard, but “just statistically speaking, I don’t think it’s possible to escape T-cell immunity,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, a contributor to a recent report that modeled various scenarios for the future with COVID-19.

The Atlantic

The Future of mRNA Vaccines

The Future of mRNA Vaccines

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, discussed the many ways mRNA vaccines are being studied by him and colleagues and the conditions scientists think may be prevented in the future thanks to this unique vaccine platform. “There are hundreds and hundreds of diseases for which mRNA could be useful,” said Weissman.

U.S. News and World Report

Experts Present Roadmap for the Next Phase of Living with COVID-19

Experts Present Roadmap for the Next Phase of Living with COVID-19

A new report released Monday charts a path for the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic, one that outlines both how the country can deal with the challenge of endemic COVID disease and how to prepare for future biosecurity threats. The roadmap was authored with input from Penn Medicine experts, including Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, vice provost for global initiatives, and E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Politico • KYW

Experts Create a Roadmap to Get from the COVID-19 Pandemic to the ‘Next Normal’

Experts Create a Roadmap to Get from the COVID-19 Pandemic to the ‘Next Normal’

A new report released Monday charts a path for the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic, one that outlines both how the country can deal with the challenge of endemic COVID-19 disease and how to prepare for future biosecurity threats. The roadmap was authored with input from Penn Medicine experts, including Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, vice provost for Global Initiatives, and E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

STAT News • Washington Post

Messenger RNA Therapies Are Finally Fulfilling Their Promise

Messenger RNA Therapies Are Finally Fulfilling Their Promise

“mRNA therapeutics could revolutionize treatment of many infectious diseases in developing countries, greatly improving health-care equity,” wrote Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research. He described the value of mRNA technology, what the vaccine landscape may look like in the coming years, and all the conditions and diseases that may be prevented thanks to the novel vaccine platform.

Scientific American


March 2022

Group of Physicians Combats Misinformation as Unproven COVID-19 Treatments Continue to be Prescribed

Group of Physicians Combats Misinformation as Unproven COVID-19 Treatments Continue to be Prescribed

David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, said that the positive outcomes cited by proponents of ivermectin can’t be credited to ivermectin. “In a disease like COVID-19, where the large majority of people — whether they receive a treatment or not — will improve, just giving someone a drug and then improving doesn’t mean that the drug made them improve,” he said.

ABC News

Limited Success of CAR T Cells in Solid Tumors

Limited Success of CAR T Cells in Solid Tumors

Steven M. Albelda, MD, the William Maul Measey Professor of Medicine, discussed CAR T-cell therapy in the solid tumor space, which he presented on during the 26th Annual International Congress on Hematologic Malignancies. He said, “CAR T cells will suffer from tumor heterogeneity, where some tumor cells expressed the targeted antigen and some don’t.” It’s less of an issue with B-cell leukemias and lymphomas, but “it’s a much bigger problem with solid tumors because there’s much more heterogeneity that there’s hardly ever a tumor where 100 percent of the cells would express the target antigen.“

Targeted Oncology

The 2022 Power 100: Meet the Business Leaders Shaping Greater Philadelphia

The 2022 Power 100: Meet the Business Leaders Shaping Greater Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Business Journal released its annual "Power 100" list, and some of Penn Medicine’s foremost innovators are included. UPHS CEO Kevin MahoneyCarl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, and Jim Wilson, MD, PhD, the Rose H. Weiss Professor and Director, Orphan Disease Center and the director of the Gene Therapy Program, are featured among other prominent Philadelphians.

Philadelphia Business Journal

First Patients to Receive Immunotherapy Treatment Are Still Cancer-Free a Decade Later

First Patients to Receive Immunotherapy Treatment Are Still Cancer-Free a Decade Later

Doug Olson bravely joined a revolutionary clinical trial more than 10 years ago that would put him into remission from CLL. Thanks to Penn pioneering technology called Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, he not only celebrates turning 75, but also the victory of science and innovation led by J. Joseph Melenhorst, PhD, a research professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; and David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the Abramson Cancer Center.

WebMD • Gene Therapy Live • OncLive

Penn Study Uncovers How Pancreatic Cells Reprogram Themselves to Limit the Immune Response in Patients at Risk for Type 1 Diabetes

Penn Study Uncovers How Pancreatic Cells Reprogram Themselves to Limit the Immune Response in Patients at Risk for Type 1 Diabetes

“The first events that occur in a patient heading towards Type 1 Diabetes, the events that trigger autoimmunity, have been difficult for researchers to pin down because of our inability to biopsy the pancreas, and the fact that clinical diagnosis is only made once massive beta cell destruction has occurred,” said senior author Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an associate professor of Genetics and member of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Read More

mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Scientist Weissman Working on Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Scientist Weissman Working on Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, is developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine which would protect against all known coronaviruses, like COVID-19. “The variants are going to keep coming as long as there is widespread infection,” said Weissman. “We have only vaccinated 15 percent of Africa, and immunized low levels of many countries in the world. Until the world is fully vaccinated, the variants are going to keep coming.”

Business Standard

Programming Algorithms Against Bacteria

Programming Algorithms Against Bacteria

Infectious bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. But César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Bioengineering, is driving innovative research using artificial intelligence to find new antibiotics. These new computer-generated antibiotics are based on entirely new molecules and may be more effective at fighting resistant bacteria.

rtve

Oldest Human DNA From Africa Reveals Complex Migrations

Oldest Human DNA From Africa Reveals Complex Migrations

A new analysis of ancient DNA from six individuals from southeastern Africa offers a glimpse of the lives of people who occupied the continent between 18,000 and 5,000 years ago, leading to new theories on how populations comingled. Sarah Tishkoff, PhD, the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology, said while the genomes are a welcome addition to the sparse record of ancient DNA on the continent, she’s not swayed by the team’s ideas about what happened before 20,000 years ago. “There’s a lot of assumptions in that analysis,” she said, and it’s not clear to her that the authors considered alternative explanations.

Science

Got a COVID-19 Booster? You Probably Won’t Need Another for a Long Time

Should Parents Wait to Get the COVID-19 Booster for Their Children?

A flurry of new studies suggest that several parts of the immune system can mount a sustained, potent response to coronavirus variants. Three doses of a vaccine — or even just two — are enough to protect most people from serious illness and death for a long time, the studies suggest. “We’re starting to see now diminishing returns on the number of additional doses,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. Although people over 65 or at high risk of illness may benefit from a fourth vaccine dose, it may be unnecessary for most people, he added.

New York Times • Kaiser Health News

Verismo Enters Research Agreement With Penn

Verismo Enters Research Agreement With Penn

Verismo, the Philadelphia cell therapy company that spun out of Penn two years ago, signed a translational research services agreement with Penn that includes a manufacturing partnership with Penn’s Center for Advanced Retinal & Ocular Therapeutics. The company was co-founded by Michael C. Milone, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Donald Siegel, MD, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; and Verismo CEO Bryan Kim. The agreement will support the clinical development of Verismo’s first new drug candidate, SynKIR-100, a cell therapy under development to treat late-stage ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Philadelphia Business Journal

Penn Medicine Doctors Say Treatment Appears to Have Cured Patients’ Blood Cancer

Penn Medicine Doctors Say Treatment Appears to Have Cured Patients’ Blood Cancer

David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the Abramson Cancer Center, discussed Penn’s revolutionary clinical trial on CAR T cell therapy, showing that the CAR T cells remained detectable at least a decade after infusion to treat cancer. Doug Olson, one of the first two patients treated in the trial for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, said he considers himself to be cured. Porter is looking to advance the study and provide the treatment sooner to more patients.

NBC10

How Can We Tweak the Vaccines?

How Can We Tweak the Vaccines?

The vaccine boosters made by Pfizer and Moderna provide strong protection against serious illness from COVID-19 and hospitalization. But their protection does wane over time, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published earlier this month. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about the study and its implications.

WHYY

COVID-19: New Combination of Antivirals May be an Effective Treatment

COVID-19: New Combination of Antivirals May be an Effective Treatment

Penn Medicine researchers have identified a combination of antiviral drugs they believe to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus: The combination includes the experimental drug brequinar with either the approved drug remdesivir or the approved drug molnupiravir. “Synergy is difficult to find, and our discovery may lead to the use of these combinations in treatments,” said the study’s lead author Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Medical News Today

Wharton Moneyball with E. John Wherry

Wharton Moneyball with E. John Wherry

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined the “Wharton Moneyball” podcast show to discuss the latest around COVID-19, vaccines, and decision making.

Wharton Moneyball

The Cells That Can Give You Super-immunity

The Cells That Can Give You Super-immunity

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing the growing understanding of B cells, which through lessons from COVID-19 could also yield benefits in the realm of cancer immunotherapy.

BBC

Study of Penn Patients with Decade-Long Leukemia Remissions Reveals New Details About Persistence of CAR T Cells

Study of Penn Patients with Decade-Long Leukemia Remissions Reveals New Details About Persistence of CAR T Cells

A new analysis of the first two patients treated in a clinical trial at the Abramson Cancer Center with CAR T cell therapy explains the longest persistence of CAR T cells recorded to date against chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and shows that the CAR T cells remained detectable at least a decade after infusion, with sustained remission in both patients. The study was led by J. Joseph Melenhorst, PhD, a research professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; and David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation.

Read More

Antiviral Combination Highly Effective Against SARS-CoV-2

Antiviral Combination Highly Effective Against SARS-CoV-2

Combining the drug brequniar with remdesivir or molnupiravir—both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use—inhibited the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human respiratory cells and in mice, according to a new study led by Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “Identifying combinations of antivirals is really important, not only because doing so may increase the drugs’ potency against the coronavirus, but combining drugs also reduces the risk of resistance,” Cherry said.

Read More

Developing an Approach to Predict Which COVID Strains Appear in Breakthrough Infections

Developing an Approach to Predict Which COVID Strains Appear in Breakthrough Infections

Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, and his team have been sequencing viral variance in positive COVID samples across the Delaware Valley, including variants that have infected people who are vaccinated. His team sequenced and analyzed complete viral genomes from 2,621 surveillance samples from March 2020 to September 2021 and compared them to genome sequences from 159 samples from vaccinated people with breakthrough infections. Using this data, the researchers devised a model to determine which variants showed up more in breakthrough infections. This revealed that three lineages of the delta variant showed three-fold enrichment in vaccine breakthrough cases. The statistical approach they developed can be used in the future to predict breakthrough-prone variants.

Read More

Omicron and the Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

Omicron and the Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with AAMC News about what happens when someone who is vaccinated gets COVID-19. “No vaccines prevent any and all infection,” Wherry said. The good news is that vaccinated people who become infected and recover may have the best immunity against future infection.

AAMC News

Cancer Patients Treated With Gene Therapy in Remission for 10 Years

Cancer Patients Treated With Gene Therapy in Remission for 10 Years

Science Friday” interviewed Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, on data published in Nature on the first two patients with CLL treated in a clinical trial with CAR T cell therapy. He said that saying the word “cure” does not come easily, but in this case, researchers really mean it. This research, using a patient’s own killer T cells, reengineered in the lab, and then put back in the patient, just one time, shows promise for patients with liquid tumors including leukemia and lymphoma benefitting from this immunotherapy approach.

Science Friday

Two May be Better than One Drug to Treat COVID-19, University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland Study Finds

Two May be Better than One Drug to Treat COVID-19, University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland Study Finds

Drug combinations, rather than any single antiviral medication, may be the key to effective treatment of COVID-19, new research led by Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, suggests. The study found that when an experimental drug called brequinar was given with either of two medications that already had federal authorization — remdesivir or molnupiravir — it inhibited the growth of the virus in human lung cells and in mice.

Baltimore Sun

Vaccine Scientists Have Been Chasing Variants. Now, They’re Seeking a Universal COVID-19 Vaccine.

Vaccine Scientists Have Been Chasing Variants. Now, They’re Seeking a Universal COVID-19 Vaccine.

Scientists are seeking to develop pan-coronavirus vaccines — vaccines that would offer protection from all coronaviruses including COVID-19, SARS, MERS, and more. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, and colleagues at Penn are currently working to develop this vaccine, which would be the first of its kind.

Washington Post • 6ABC

Penn Medicine Performs Five Liver Transplants in Less Than 24 Hours

Penn Medicine Performs Five Liver Transplants in Less Than 24 Hours

With donor organs in short supply, it’s a blessing to have transplant teams that can rally to transplant the organs when they’re available — even when they are available all at once. Recently, Penn Medicine completed five liver transplants in an epic 24 hours, performing four at HUP and one at CHOP. “There is always a time limitation with transplant, but we were able to juggle it. It was really rewarding. It brought our teams together to work at their peak capacity,” said Peter Abt, MD, a professor of Surgery and the surgical director of Liver Transplant.

CBS3

COVID-19 Booster Enhances Protection, Contrary to ‘Immune Fatigue’ Claims

COVID-19 Booster Enhances Protection, Contrary to ‘Immune Fatigue’ Claims

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with FactCheck.org about the benefits of booster shots, after comedian Bill Maher incorrectly said COVID-19 boosters were “useless” and could cause “immune system fatigue.” Data show that people who have received booster shots are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus, even against the now-pervasive omicron variant. And there is no evidence that COVID-19 boosting can exhaust the immune system.

FactCheck.org

Does Exposure to Omicron Help Our Immunity, Even If We Don’t Get Sick?

Does Exposure to Omicron Help Our Immunity, Even If We Don’t Get Sick?

If you’ve been dodging COVID-19, you might think your immune system is superhuman or you’re even immune to getting the coronavirus. But that’s not the case. If you’ve been wearing masks or social distancing, that’s providing protection, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. Even if you live with someone who is infected, your precautions might mean you aren’t exposed to a large enough dose of virus to cause an infection.

Wall Street Journal

Repairing Cardiac Fibrosis with RNA is the Future

Repairing Cardiac Fibrosis with RNA is the Future

Researchers at Penn published a new study in the journal Science showing that a new type of mRNA injection can spur the body to make CAR T cells, which may be able to repair heart damage and that have already been used to treat cancer. Jonathan Epstein, MD, chief scientific officer for Penn Medicine and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Cardiovascular Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, led the research together with Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research, and colleagues.

Heidi News

WHYY “Radio Times” Speaks with CAR T Cell Therapy Pioneer

WHYY “Radio Times” Speaks with CAR T Cell Therapy Pioneer

Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, spoke about data published in Nature on the first two patients treated in a clinical trial with CAR T cell therapy. He explained how it was the longest persistence of CAR T cells recorded to date against chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and that the CAR T cells remained detectable at least a decade after infusion, with sustained remission in both patients. June also touched on the Cancer Moonshot program re-launched this month by President Biden with a goal to cut the cancer death rate in half in 25 years.

WHYY

Genetic Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer

Genetic Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer

Heredity may play a role in a testicular cancer diagnosis, which impacts 1 in 150 men. Katherine Nathanson, MD, the Pearl Basser Professor for BRCA-Related Research at the Abramson Cancer Center, explained that “it’s been well established that there is a very high relative/genetic risk for men who have had a sibling or father with testicular cancer,” she said. “The relative risk for testicular cancer is higher than any other cancer type.”

Giddy

Can the Technology Behind COVID-19 Vaccines Cure Other Diseases?

Can the Technology Behind COVID-19 Vaccines Cure Other Diseases?

In an article about the potential of mRNA vaccines, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, said vaccine potential is “limitless.” “We’re making vaccines against viruses, bacteria, pathogens, parasites, cancer, allergic diseases, autoimmune diseases. The list goes on and on,” he said.

Wall Street Journal

First Patients to Receive Immunotherapy Treatment Are Still Cancer-Free a Decade Later

First Patients to Receive Immunotherapy Treatment Are Still Cancer-Free a Decade Later

Doug Olson bravely joined a revolutionary clinical trial more than 10 years ago that would put him into remission from CLL. Thanks to Penn pioneering technology called Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, he not only celebrates turning 75, but also the victory of science and innovation led by J. Joseph Melenhorst, PhD, a research professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; and David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the Abramson Cancer Center.

WebMD • Gene Therapy Live • OncLive

‘Genome Valley Excellence Award 2022’ Goes to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Scientist Drew Weissman

‘Genome Valley Excellence Award 2022’ Goes to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Scientist Drew Weissman

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, was awarded the 2022 Genome Valley Excellence Award which comes from the Indian government and the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations.

The Hindu

What the Omicron Wave Is Revealing About Human Immunity

What the Omicron Wave Is Revealing About Human Immunity

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, and Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, were quoted in a Nature article discussing the wealth of insights yielded by recent research into SARS-CoV-2. “We are just at the beginning of a wave of discovery,” Wherry said.

Nature

False Claim Spreads About Japanese Ivermectin Study, Despite Correction

False Claim Spreads About Japanese Ivermectin Study, Despite Correction

Social media users are sharing false information about a Japanese company’s research into using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, after a news agency published an erroneous headline that it soon corrected. David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, directs a database tracking research into treatments for COVID-19, and said that there have been 25 randomized controlled trials — a gold-standard for research — studying ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. The trials have collectively involved more than 2,000 patients, he said, and the results have been mixed.

Associated Press

Should We Go All In on Omicron Vaccines?

Should We Go All In on Omicron Vaccines?

While omicron-specific vaccines are in the works, experts have warned against trashing the original-recipe shots too soon, as we don’t know what the next major variant will look like. However, there is reason enough to avoid boosting in perpetuity with the original recipe. For the next round of COVID-19 shots, whenever they might be necessary, we may be better off using something else — an “insurance policy,” explained Rishi Goel, a PSOM student and research fellow at the lab of E. John Wherry, PhD, to help the body broaden its coronavirus scope.

The Atlantic

Omicron Subvariant of COVID-19 Emerges in U.S.

Omicron Subvariant of COVID-19 Emerges in U.S.

Ominously nicknamed the “stealth variant,” the latest COVID-19 viral version arrives in the United States with the usual uncertainty that accompanies every iteration of the virus. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, thinks the subvariant won’t be very disruptive. “I think from what I’ve been seeing there’s not much reason to think there will be a big change,” he said. “Again, it’s early days and I could change my tune tomorrow.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

Biden Relaunches His ‘Moonshot’ Initiative to End Cancer

Biden Relaunches His ‘Moonshot’ Initiative to End Cancer

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, discussed the progress the field of oncology has made in Philadelphia and around the country with emphasis on the cancer “moonshot” program, which began at Penn six years ago. This week President Biden relaunched the program with the goal to cut the cancer death rate in half in 25 years. Vonderheide said, “The most palpable impact to date has been the explosion of new therapies using cell and gene therapy.”

NBC10

Pair of Decade-Long CAR-T Remissions Spark Talk of ‘Cure’

Pair of Decade-Long CAR-T Remissions Spark Talk of ‘Cure’

In new research published this week in Nature, “We can now conclude that CAR T cells can actually cure patients,” said Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. Treatment with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy resulted in remissions of more than 10 years in two chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients — responses that the investigators said exceeded their “wildest expectations.”

CNN • Daily Mail • Axios • U.S. News & World Report • HealthDay • ScienceNews • The Hill • Kaiser Health News • MedPage Today • Sinc.com

Is an Omicron Infection as Good as a Booster? What the Science Says About ‘Hybrid’ Immunity.

Is an Omicron Infection as Good as a Booster? What the Science Says About ‘Hybrid’ Immunity.

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer about those who had omicron and what they should do about booster shots. Wherry discussed why people should never get infected on purpose, the immune system’s response to the vaccine, and how long to wait before getting a booster.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Two Patients Declared 'Cured' of Leukemia, a Decade After Innovative Treatment That Has Transformed Blood Cancer Care

Two Patients Declared 'Cured' of Leukemia, a Decade After Innovative Treatment That Has Transformed Blood Cancer Care

A new analysis of the first two patients treated in a clinical trial with CAR T cell therapy explains the longest persistence of CAR T cells recorded to date against chronic lymphocytic leukemia and shows that the CAR T cells remained detectable at least a decade after infusion, with sustained remission in both patients. The study, published in Nature, was led by J. Joseph Melenhorst, PhD, a research professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies; and David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the Abramson Cancer Center. The faculty joined patient Doug Olson in a Nature media briefing this week to outline their findings.

Penn Medicine News Release • New York Times • Philadelphia Inquirer • Associated Press• USA Today • The Guardian • Nature • STAT News • New Scientist • Daily Beast • Endpoints News

As Omicron Wanes in NJ, Here’s Where Experts Think the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Headed Next

As Omicron Wanes in NJ, Here’s Where Experts Think the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Headed Next

The general consensus emerging from health experts is that COVID-19 will not be eradicated any time soon because it has infected so many people around the world, which increases its chances of mutating into powerful new variants. It will have to be managed similarly to influenza. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, told USA Today Network New Jersey that he expects a lull in COVID-19 activity soon that may well carry the region into the fall. But he is also concerned about a “continual progression” of new COVID-19 variants. “It’s hard to see how you could erase the virus at this point,” said Bushman. “With so much of it in the world, it’s inevitable that there will be the creation and spread of more transmissible mutations.”

New Jersey Record (subscription required)


Feb 2022

Fact Check: Omicron Variant Isn’t More Likely to Infect Vaccinated

Fact Check: Omicron Variant Isn’t More Likely to Infect Vaccinated

After a newsletter claimed the COVID-19 vaccine caused more COVID-19 infections, USA Today talked to medical experts who debunked the claim. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, said that research “shows protection from omicron both for mild and severe disease.”

USA Today

Omicron Is Fading. What Does the Future of COVID-19 Look Like?

Omicron Is Fading. What Does the Future of COVID-19 Look Like?

In this article about this wave of the omicron variant, Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, explained how the enzymes that replicate viruses are not perfect, so when it makes reproductions, mutations occur. When a mutation gives the new version of the virus an advantage over earlier variants, natural selection makes it more likely it will become the dominant variant.

Tampa Bay Times

UK Report Did Not Find COVID-19 Vaccines Damage Immune Response

UK Report Did Not Find COVID-19 Vaccines Damage Immune Response

A video clip from a panel discussion on COVID-19 Monday is spreading on social media, misrepresenting what a report by U.K. health officials found. Multiple experts including E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, disputed the claim in the video that vaccines were doing damage. “It actually shows the vaccines are working to limit infection,” Wherry explained.

Associated Press

Two Studies Show Omicron’s Immune-Evasive Power, Role of Boosters

Two Studies Show Omicron’s Immune-Evasive Power, Role of Boosters

Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, commented on two new studies further demonstrating the ability of the omicron variant to evade vaccine- or infection-induced immunity. “These papers suggest that one correlate of protection, neutralizing antibodies, are low upon the standard vaccination schemes, but that a booster can significantly increase the levels of neutralizing antibodies to omicron,” she said.

Medscape

Vaccines Provide Best Protection From COVID-19

Vaccines Provide Best Protection From COVID-19

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, discussed the latest on COVID-19, the omicron variant, and new research which concludes getting the vaccine is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19. “The bottom line message is that from symptomatic COVID-19 infection you do generate some immunity. But it’s still much safer to get your immunity from vaccination than from infection,” Wherry said.

Associated Press • FOX29 • Los Angeles Times

Will Omicron Leave Most of Us Immune?

Will Omicron Leave Most of Us Immune?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with The Atlantic about collective immunity, which is key to ending a pandemic. But its building blocks start with each individual. Allowing for shades of gray, a person’s current immune status hinges on “the number of exposures [to the spike protein], and time since last exposure,” Wherry said.

The Atlantic

After Omicron, We Could Use a Break. We May Just Get It

After Omicron, We Could Use a Break. We May Just Get It

Some experts think we may get a bit of a break from the COVID-19 roller coaster after omicron. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, believes omicron is the final wave of the pandemic. “None of us think the virus is going to go away, but the virus will have less opportunity to change because there will be fewer hosts that it can replicate in,” said Hensley. “And in an immune population, due to immunity, disease severity will be less.”

STAT

Yes, You Can Catch the Flu and COVID-19. No, ‘Flurona’ Isn’t Real.

Yes, You Can Catch the Flu and COVID-19. No, ‘Flurona’ Isn’t Real.

Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, commented on the potential in developing therapeutics that use defective versions of viruses to prompt innate immune responses in relation to treating COVID-19. “I’m not sure what practical application this would have as an antiviral,” she said.

NBC News

Why Scientists Are Racing to Develop More COVID-19 Antivirals

Why Scientists Are Racing to Develop More COVID-19 Antivirals

The approval of two oral antiviral treatments — molnupiravir and Paxlovid — show promise to reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, according to Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. As these pills slowly make their way into pharmacies worldwide, researchers are already looking ahead to the drugs that could supersede them. Cherry and her research team are currently screening 20,000 compounds to test their efficacy against the coronavirus.

Nature

What Happens After Omicron? Four Key Questions About Where the Pandemic Goes Next

What Happens After Omicron? Four Key Questions About Where the Pandemic Goes Next

The omicron variant’s worldwide surge has upended early hopes for returns to normalcy and points to a more uncertain future for the pandemic, some experts say. “We are going to have a tremendous number of deaths among the unvaccinated,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “And we’re going to have — even if we manage to eke our way through this — the scar tissue in the health system, which is going to last for a long time and is not going to be something that recovers when infection rates go down.”

Buzzfeed News

The Importance of Diversity in Immunology

The Importance of Diversity in Immunology

The January 15, 2022, special issue of The Journal of Immunology showcases a collection of Brief Reviews, including a broad spectrum of immunology topics as well as author autobiographies, and it celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. De’Broski R. Herbert, Ph.D. (AAI ’00), and Irene Salinas, Ph.D. (AAI ’17), took on the roles of guest editors for this unique project.

Editorial

This Year’s Flu Shot Effectiveness in Question

This Year’s Flu Shot Effectiveness in Question

Some health experts are saying that this year’s flu shot is poorly matched to the strain that is circulating. For the flu shot, though it may contain one mismatched strain, it may still do its job. “Influenza vaccination is the best protection against severe disease and illness,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, to NBC in a quote used by The Hill. “Even in these years of mismatch, we see high effectiveness against hospitalizations and severe disease.”

The Hill

How Should We Be Using At-home Rapid Tests for Omicron?

How Should We Be Using At-home Rapid Tests for Omicron?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with WHYY about rapid antigen tests and how they can used as a means of reducing omicron’s spread. “None of our measures of protecting ourselves or prevention are perfect,” said Wherry. “Vaccines aren’t perfect. Masks aren’t perfect. Tests aren’t perfect. But when used in combinations and in layers, we can dramatically reduce risk.”

WHYY

mRNA Technology: Vaccine Biotech Has Helped Repair Broken Hearts in Mice

mRNA Technology: Vaccine Biotech Has Helped Repair Broken Hearts in Mice

Researchers at Penn published a new study, featured on the cover of the journal Science, showing that a new type of mRNA injection can spur the body to make CAR-T cells — cells that may be able to repair heart damage and that have already been used to treat cancer. The research was led by Jonathan Epstein, MD, the chief scientific officer for Penn Medicine and executive vice dean and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Cardiovascular Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, as well as Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research.

NewScientist

‘Flurona’ — COVID-19 and Flu at the Same Time — Cases Are Rising. Here’s What You Need To Know

‘Flurona’ — COVID-19 and Flu at the Same Time — Cases Are Rising. Here’s What You Need To Know

A less effective flu vaccine and the surging omicron COVID-19 variant have led to a nasty combination of viruses this season. “From our lab-based studies it looks like a major mismatch,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, of this year’s flu shot, in an interview with CNN last month, quoted by CNET.

CNET

‘Flurona’ Is Real, But Don’t Panic — it’s Common to Get Two Viruses at Once

‘Flurona’ Is Real, But Don’t Panic — it’s Common to Get Two Viruses at Once

The phenomenon of “coinfection” with influenza and the coronavirus is real and, to those in the medical community, not the least bit surprising. Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was interviewed about the coinfection, how common it is, and what will happen if you get sick. If the person is lucky, the immune response to the first invader could help protect against the second, Cherry said.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Gut Microbiota Tuning Data Presented at ASH 2021

Gut Microbiota Tuning Data Presented at ASH 2021

Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology, interviewed with Oncology Tube on data presented at ASH 2021 on gut microbiota tuning and how it promotes tumor-associated antigen cross presentation and enhances CAR T antitumor effects. He also spoke on research about intestinal microbiota and how it correlates with response and toxicity after CAR T-cell therapy in patients with B-Cell malignancies.

Oncology Tube

Will ‘Forever Boosting’ Beat the Coronavirus?

Will ‘Forever Boosting’ Beat the Coronavirus?

Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, provided expert opinion for a New York Timesarticle discussing what is feasible regarding booster shots with no end in sight for the pandemic. If the coronavirus settles into a flulike seasonal pattern, as it seems possible, “you can imagine a scenario where we simply give boosters before the winter each year,” Hensley said.

New York Times

Penn Awarded $14M NIH Grant for Organ Transplantation With CAR T-Cell Therapy

Penn Awarded $14M NIH Grant for Organ Transplantation With CAR T-Cell Therapy

The NIH awarded Penn a $14 million grant to study organ transplantation with CAR T-cells in patients with end-stage renal disease who are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant. The grant will support the launch of a clinical trial by Penn researchers including Vijay Bhoj, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Ali Naji, MD, PhD, a professor of Surgical Research, and the principal investigator of the study. Naji said, “We’re committed to discovering an approach to help these currently transplant-ineligible end-stage renal disease patients find a path forward to an organ match."

Philadelphia Business Journal • Healio • Trial Site News • Pharmabiz • One News Page

Philly Siblings Emphasize the Benefits of Living-donor Kidney Transplants

Philly Siblings Emphasize the Benefits of Living-donor Kidney Transplants

Two Philadelphia siblings celebrated Christmas together after sharing a special gift this year — a kidney that Alli Maurer donated to her brother, Chris. Robert R. Redfield III, MD, surgical director of the Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program, and Matthew Levine, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Transplant Surgery, performed the surgeries. “If there are multiple potential donors, then the next step is to see who is the best blood type and antigen match,” Levine said. “If a recipient has strong antibodies against a donor’s human leukocyte antigens, the risk of rejection is high and a donor would be declined for that recipient.”

Philly Voice

Expert Discusses Best Time to Use a COVID-19 Home Test Kit

Expert Discusses Best Time to Use a COVID-19 Home Test Kit

Over the holidays, Americans flocked to stores to try to find at home COVID-19 tests kits. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, recommended that if you’re using the home test as a precaution ahead of a gathering, test 6-12 hours before the event. “That’s going to make sure that when you’re with other people you’re at a low risk for transmitting.”

6ABC

Is a Second Vaccine Booster in Our Future?

Is a Second Vaccine Booster in Our Future?

WHYY interviewed Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, for a story that answered a number of questions regarding booster shots. “Again, with the new variants, sometimes it is still possible to get infected even if you’re vaccinated, but the consequences are much, much, much less bad,” Bushman said. “Your chances of death are greatly, greatly reduced, so you’re much better off getting vaccinated and boosted. So do so as early as you can.”

WHYY

COVID-19 Cases Surge Once Again

COVID-19 Cases Surge Once Again

Philadelphia is dealing with an upsurge of COVID-19 cases due to recent holiday-related gatherings and the omicron variant. NBC10 discussed how COVID-19 is currently affecting the city with insight from Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens.

NBC10

How Drew Weissman’s Life’s Work Led to COVID-19 Vaccines

How Drew Weissman’s Life’s Work Led to COVID-19 Vaccines

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research who developed foundational mRNA vaccine technology used in the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, spoke to KYW Newsradio about the unique vaccine and his research focus now. Weissman and colleagues are developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would prevent all types of coronaviruses and are collaborating with researchers and clinicians around the world to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are accessible to everyone.

KYW Newsradio

Groundbreaking mRNA Scientist: COVID-19 Antiviral Pills Are ‘Game Changers’

Groundbreaking mRNA Scientist: COVID-19 Antiviral Pills Are ‘Game Changers’

The best strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and COVID-19 variants is through the creation of a pan-coronavirus vaccine that could prevent any and all coronaviruses, said Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research and an mRNA research leader. While some vaccine manufacturers are working on updates to current COVID-19 vaccines to protect specific variants, Weissman said this strategy would require ongoing and perpetual updates whereas an all-encompassing coronavirus vaccine could cover all COVID-19 variants and may prevent future coronavirus epidemics and pandemics.

CNN


Jan 2022

Studies Suggest Why Omicron Is Less Severe: It Spares the Lungs

Studies Suggest Why Omicron Is Less Severe: It Spares the Lungs

The New York Times reports on research that suggests omicron is easier on lungs than other versions of COVID-19, which may be why the variant causes a “milder” form of the disease. Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, explained that although the research addresses the severity of symptoms, it does not give any indication on the transmissibility of the variant. “It could be as simple as, this is a lot more virus in people’s saliva and nasal passages,” she said.

New York Times

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