SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health has awarded a $1 million award for medical breakthroughs to a cancer and immune system researcher who developed a therapy that finds and kills leukemia cancer cells.

Sanford Health gave its $1 million 2021 Sanford Lorraine Cross Award to Dr. Carl June, the health system announced Tuesday, April 13. The award is given every two years to those who have conducted breakthroughs and innovations in medical science.

June was part of a team that developed a treatment that takes selected T cells, cells that recognize harmful intruders and trigger an immune response, and reprograms them to recognize and destroy leukemia cancer cells. The therapy is now named KYMRIAH by Novartis and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

June is the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Other finalists for the award were Dr. Mark Denison of Vanderbilt University, whose lab discovered an important facet of coronaviruses in 2007, and Dr. Michael Welsh of the University of Iowa, a pulmonary physician who studies cystic fibrosis.

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“This was an amazing event and an extraordinary group of finalists, so it’s an honor and a thrill to be receiving this award,” June said in a Sanford Health news release.

Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, bills itself as the largest provider of rural healthcare in the country. Its footprint includes 46 hospitals, including major medical centers in Sioux Falls, Fargo and Bemidji, Minn., more than 200 clinics and over 200 senior care facilities.

“Sanford Health’s commitment to discovery has always been driven by our relentless focus on making a life-changing impact for our patients, people and the communities we serve,” said Bill Gassen, president and CEO of Sanford Health, in the news release. “Today this continues as we honor Dr. June with the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award in recognition of his life-saving discoveries and accomplishments."

The Sanford Lorraine Cross Award was first awarded in 2019. Finalists are determined through a selection process that "uses machine learning to identify innovative areas of discovery and breakthrough science," according to Sanford Health.

The award is supported in perpetuity through an endowment established by donors to the Sanford Health Foundation.