Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) is proud to announce that Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD, renowned physician-scientist, Director of the Center for Cell Engineering, and Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair, has been awarded the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. The prestigious prize recognizes Dr. Sadelain and Carl June, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, for the development of chimeric antigen receptor T cell immunotherapy (CAR T cell therapy) whereby the patient’s T cells are modified to target and kill cancer cells. Dr. Sadelain is a pioneer and leader in the field of immunology, genetic engineering, and the development of CAR T cell therapy. A type of immunotherapy, CAR T cell therapy uses genetically engineered versions of a person’s own immune cells to find and fight cancer.
Founded in 2012 by sponsors Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki, the Breakthrough Prize is the world’s largest international science prize awarded annually to top scientists working in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics. Every year, laureates are chosen by previous Breakthrough Prize winners and awarded $3 million. In addition to the monetary prize, they are honored at an annual ceremony that is broadcast globally.
“The MSK community is proud to congratulate Dr. Sadelain on this well-deserved recognition of his groundbreaking innovations in the field. He has made revolutionary contributions to cancer research, and his discoveries will benefit patients worldwide for years to come,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, MD, FACS, President and CEO of MSK. “MSK physicians and scientists have pioneered the study of immunology, genetic engineering, and CAR T cell therapy, which are some of the most exciting and important advances in cancer treatment in our lifetime.”
Dr. Sadelain’s trailblazing research into T cell engineering spans nearly three decades and has opened the door and defined the pathway for the future of cellular immunotherapy to treat cancer. Breakthroughs in the research at MSK have demonstrated remarkable results in patients with chemotherapy-resistant blood cancers. Researchers are now exploring CAR T cell therapy as a treatment option for several other types of cancer.
“I am deeply grateful to be selected for this prestigious award,” said Dr. Sadelain, a member of the Immunology Program at MSK’s Sloan Kettering Institute. “To be surrounded by such distinguished company is a tremendous honor. I thank the visionary Breakthrough Prize team for supporting and investing in science, which will help us all forge ahead in pursuing new innovations that will benefit patients and their families.”
A luminary in the field of cancer science and genetic engineering, Dr. Sadelain began investigating what would eventually be referred to as CAR T cell therapy in the early 1990s, publishing his first abstract on successful T cell engineering in 1992. A decade later, in 2002, Dr. Sadelain and his team built the first effective CAR T cells, paving the way for their clinical investigation. These second-generation CAR T cells were able to survive, proliferate, and kill cancer cells in the lab, which established the feasibility and proof of concept for producing genetically instructed, targeted immune responses. In 2003, Dr. Sadelain and colleagues published a seminal research paper showing that human CD19-directed CAR T cells could eradicate leukemia cells in a mouse model. This was the first demonstration that CD19, a molecule on white blood cells, could serve as an effective target for CAR T cells. Soon after, Dr. Sadelain, along with colleagues Isabelle Rivière, PhD, formerly Director of MSK’s Cell Therapy and Cell Engineering Facility and presently at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Renier Brentjens MD, PhD, then a member of the Michel Sadelain Lab and presently Deputy Director and Chair of the Department of Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, led the first clinical trials targeting CD19 in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and adult lymphoblastic leukemia. The first CAR T cell therapy, targeting CD19, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for use in children and young adults with refractory acute leukemias and some refractory lymphomas. More recently, Dr. Sadelain has continued to advance the understanding of CAR T cells and reveal important insights that are being used to improve their activity, including the development of novel strategies to overcome tumor resistance and increase the potency, persistence, and safety of CAR T cells to broaden their use in different types of cancers.
Dr. Sadelain joined MSK in 1994 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a co-recipient, along with Dr. June, of the 2012 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology from the Cancer Research Institute, for their work on CAR T cell therapy. He is a past President of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) and was voted Inventor of the Year in 2014 by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association. He is the recipient of the 2018 Pasteur-Weizmann/Servier International Prize, the 2018 Academy of Sciences Medal from the Institut de France, the 2019 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine, and the 2019 Inserm International Prize. He was laureate of the 48th Fondation ARC Léopold Griffuel Award for Translational and Clinical Research in 2020, the recipient of the 2021 ASGCT Outstanding Achievement Award, and named a 2023 Fellow in the American Association for Cancer Research Academy. Dr. Sadelain received his MD degree in 1984 from the University of Paris–Pierre et Marie Curie and his PhD in 1989 from the University of Alberta in Canada.