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Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD, FAACR, Honored with 2024 AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research

PHILADELPHIA – The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will award Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD, Fellow of the AACR Academy, with the 2024 AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research during the AACR Annual Meeting 2024 to be held April 5-10 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

Rosenberg is a senior investigator in the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI); chief of the NCI Surgery Branch; head of the Tumor Immunology Section; and professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He is being honored for his lifelong scientific achievements and paramount contributions to cancer research and patient care, most notably his pioneering research that established interleukin-2 (IL-2) as the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved cancer immunotherapy and his major contributions to establishing fundamental principles involving cellular and genetic engineering and immunotherapeutic development.

Through a series of elegant studies, Rosenberg demonstrated that IL-2 has the ability to function as a growth factor for cytotoxic T cells and that treatment with high doses of IL-2 is sufficient to stimulate prolonged tumor regression. These groundbreaking studies would, in turn, lead to the approval of IL-2 as a viable treatment option for metastatic renal cell carcinoma and metastatic melanoma patients.

Following his initial IL-2 studies, Rosenberg continued to pursue the establishment of additional cancer immunotherapies and discovered that IL-2 could be further harnessed as an anti-tumor therapy by stimulating the production of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in the context of melanoma. He expertly demonstrated that TILs isolated from a melanoma patient could be expanded ex vivo through IL-2 stimulation and subsequently reintroduced into the patient to induce extended durations of tumor regression. This finding helped create the field of adoptive immunotherapy and later resulted in the development of similar cell transfer treatment options for a variety of other cancers, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

This technique also helped establish chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells as effective cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, namely, hematologic malignancies. Rosenberg and colleagues discovered that T cells may be genetically modified to express various proteins such as CARs. Furthermore, he found that such modified T cells may be designed to recognize target molecules that are specifically expressed by cancer cells, such as the B-lymphocyte antigen CD19. This finding would result in the determination that such CAR T cells represent ideal and effective precision medicine options for the treatment of cancers, such as treatment refractory CD19-positive B-cell lymphoma. CAR T-cell technology has continued to be developed by Rosenberg and others and is currently FDA approved for the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia, B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, while also being improved and adapted for various other cancer types.

“Dr. Rosenberg’s innovative, groundbreaking research has revolutionized the scientific understanding of the immune response to cancer and resulted in the development of cancer immunotherapies and gene therapies that are saving countless lives around the world,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Moreover, he has helped secure the future of the cancer immunotherapy field through his dedication to mentorship and his support of the next generation of cancer researchers. We are very grateful for Dr. Rosenberg’s contributions and thrilled to celebrate his highly productive and impactful career with this prestigious award.”

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established to honor an individual who has made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research, either through a single scientific discovery or a body of work. These contributions, whether in research, leadership, or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer.

Rosenberg has been an AACR member since 1971 and was elected as a Fellow of the AACR Academy in 2015. He received the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research in 2022 and the AACR-Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology in 2020.

Throughout his career, Rosenberg has been recognized with a multitude of scientific honors, including the American College of Surgeons Icons in Surgery Award (2022), Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service (2021), Dan David Prize, “Future” category (2021), Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research (2019), American Association of Immunologists-Steinman Award for Human Immunology Research (2019), Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine (2019), Edogawa NICHE Prize (2019), Helis Prize in Cancer Research (2019), Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service (2019), Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2018), Excellence in Technology Transfer Award (2018), Jacobson Innovation Award (2018), NCI Director’s Award for Translational Science (2018), Federal Technology Transfer Award (2018), James Ewing Award (2016), Novartis Prize for Clinical Immunology (2016), American Cancer Society Medal of Honor (2015), Betty Ford Lifetime Achievement Award of Distinction (2015), Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals – Federal Employee of the Year, Partnership for Public Service (2015), Keio Medical Science Prize (2012), William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology (2011), Medallion for Scientific Achievement (2006), Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Award (2005), Lila Gruber Memorial Cancer Research Award (2005), American-Italian Cancer Foundation Prize for Scientific Excellence in Medicine (2003), Flance-Karl Award (2002), John Wayne Award for Clinical Research (1996), Claude Jacquillat Award for Achievement in Clinical Oncology (1993), American Society of Clinical Oncology’s David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture (1991), and Léopold Griffuel Prize (1988). In 2021, he was elected as a fellow of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) Academy of Immuno-Oncology.

Rosenberg earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Johns Hopkins University. He earned a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University. Rosenberg completed his surgical residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) while simultaneously completing his research fellowship in immunology with John David, MD. Over the course of his illustrious career, he has authored or co-authored more than 30 books and more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications.

Rosenberg’s award lecture will be presented on Saturday, April 6, at 3 p.m. PT.

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