The 2019 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research will be awarded to Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD, of the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The prize, awarded annually by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), recognizes Dr. Rosenberg’s pioneering role in the development of adoptive immunotherapy to treat cancer.
Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD
According to NFCR, the Szent-Györgyi Prize honors scientists “who have made an original discovery or breakthrough in scientific understanding that has had a lasting impact on the cancer field and a direct impact of saving people’s lives.” The prize was established in 2006 in honor of NFCR’s cofounder, Albert Szent-Györgyi, MD, PhD, who received the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his study of vitamin C and cell respiration.
Dr. Rosenberg, Chief of CCR’s Surgery Branch, developed the first effective immunotherapies and gene therapies for selected patients with advanced cancer and was the first to successfully insert foreign genes—in this case, genetically modified T cells—into humans.
Dr. Rosenberg’s clinical trials of the protein interleukin 2 (IL-2) led to the first immunotherapy approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cancer in 1992. He and his team were the first to show in clinical trials that tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes extracted from a tumor, grown to large numbers in the lab, and then administered back to a patient—a treatment known as adoptive cell transfer (ACT) immunotherapy—could lead to tumor regression in patients with advanced melanoma.
With his team, Dr. Rosenberg also initially developed a form of ACT immunotherapy in which a patient’s T cells are removed, genetically engineered to bind to specific proteins on cancer cells and kill them, and then administered back to the patient. He was the first to use T lymphocytes genetically engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to successfully treat patients with aggressive lymphomas. ■