PHILADELPHIA – The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will award E. John Wherry, PhD, with the 2023 AACR-Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology during the AACR Annual Meeting 2023, April 14-19 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
Wherry is chair of the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, director of the Institute for Immunology, and founding director of the Immune Health Project in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is being honored for his major fundamental discoveries associated with deciphering the mechanisms of T-cell exhaustion in cancer, which has aided and informed research dedicated to establishing effective checkpoint blockade immunotherapies and has revealed novel approaches to reinvigorate T cells.
The AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology recognizes active scientists whose outstanding and innovative research has had a major impact on the cancer field and has the potential to stimulate new directions in cancer immunology.
Wherry is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking achievements in basic, translational, and clinical immunology, dramatically influencing the scientific understanding of cancer immunobiology and immunotherapy. Wherry’s work has defined the concept of T-cell exhaustion and has distinguished exhaustion from other forms of immune system nonresponsiveness. Wherry was instrumental in first identifying PD-1 expression by exhausted T cells and in characterizing the co-regulation of exhaustion by PD-1 and other inhibitory receptors. His innovative research has laid the foundation for demonstrating that exhausted T cells are a critical target of PD-1 checkpoint blockade in cancer. This treatment has transformed many previously intractable cancers into chronic diseases.
Recently, Wherry has discovered new developmental biology pathways governing the lineage dynamics of exhausted T cells. His laboratory team is now attempting to identify and catalog associated signals that control cellular homeostasis. Further, Wherry and his team at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center are working to develop new cellular engineering techniques to generate cell-based therapies, such as CAR T cells, by targeting noncoding genomic regulatory elements that control state-specific gene regulation in exhausted T cells. More recently, Wherry’s group has pioneered deep immune profiling pipelines that allow an “immune health” fingerprint to be defined and monitored over time. This approach is being explored in cancer patients and individuals affected by COVID-19 to study clinical perturbations whereby alterations in an individual’s immune health profile can subsequently help determine current and future immune competency.
“Dr. Wherry’s innovative research has resulted in crucial scientific insights that have not only advanced the field of cancer immunology but also helped to revolutionize treatment for patients with cancer,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “His discoveries involving T-cell exhaustion have cemented his status as a leading authority in the field. The AACR is proud to honor him with this prestigious award.”
“Since starting as a CRI fellow in 2000, Dr. Wherry’s research has had a profound impact on immunology and immunotherapy. From first revealing the importance of the PD-1 immune checkpoint in T cell exhaustion to now championing the concept and clinical approach captured by his ‘immune health’ initiative, the field wouldn’t be where it is were it not for his contributions,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs at CRI. “We are proud to have supported Dr. Wherry throughout his career and to have his valuable insights and leadership on our Scientific Advisory Council.”
Wherry serves as a scientific editor of the AACR journal Cancer Discovery and a senior editor of Cancer Immunology Research. He has served as a member of the AACR COVID-19 and Cancer Task Force (2020-2022); co-chair of the AACR Annual Meeting Program Committee (2018-2019); member of the AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Fellowships in Translational Immuno-oncology Scientific Review Committee (2016-2018); and was program committee chair of the AACR Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer (2021). He was also a past chair of the selection committee for the AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology (2019-2020).
Wherry has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry CYTO Hooke Award (2022), the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Stanley N. Cohen Biomedical Research Award (2021), the Stand Up To Cancer Sharp Award (2018), the CRI Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology (2016), a place on Thomson Reuters’ “Highly Cited Researchers” list (2016, 2014), the Thomas Jefferson University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award (2014), a place on Smithsonian Magazine’s “America’s Young Innovators: 37 under 36” (2007), the ISI Citation Index Rising Star (2006), the Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging (2006), The Wistar Institute and University of Pennsylvania SPORE on Skin Cancer Career Development Award (2005), and the American Association of Immunologists Junior Faculty Travel Award (2005). He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2022).
Wherry received his undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University and his PhD in immunology at Thomas Jefferson University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Rafi Ahmed, PhD, at Emory University.
Wherry’s award lecture will be presented on Monday, April 17, at 3:30 p.m. ET.