ACGT Awards Luncheon honors Dr. Crystal Mackall, features keynote from Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Apr 18, 2023
Devin Golden

From left to right: Crystal Mackall, MD (left), ACGT Co-Founder Barbara Netter (center), and Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD. Dr. Mackall received The Edward Netter Leadership Award during the ACGT Awards Luncheon, and Dr. Mukherjee was the keynote speaker.

Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT) awarded The Edward Netter Leadership Award to Crystal Mackall, MD, of Stanford University, at the ACGT Awards Luncheon on March 30 at Riverpark restaurant at the Alexandria Center for Life Science in New York City. The event also featured pioneering physician, oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, as the keynote speaker. 

The ACGT Awards Luncheon celebrated the non-profit organization’s 20th anniversary and ushered in a new decade. 

Carl June, MD (left), presented The Edward Netter Leadership Award to Crystal Mackall, MD, during the ACGT Awards Luncheon.

Attendees helped recognize Dr. Mackall for her incredible achievements, which include leading numerous groundbreaking clinical trials to treat children with sarcomas and brain cancers.

Named for ACGT co-founder, Edward Netter, the award recognizes a researcher who has made unparalleled and groundbreaking contributions to the field of cell and gene therapy for cancer. Dr. Mackall was presented with the award by ACGT Research Fellow and Scientific Advisory Council member Carl June, MD, who received the award in 2019.

In addition to being an ACGT Research Fellow and a member of ACGT’s Scientific Advisory Council, Dr. Mackall is the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Stanford University, the Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Cancer Cell Therapy, Associate Director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, Leader of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

“Without the donors, Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy doesn’t exist,” she said.

Dr. Mackall credited ACGT to being the first and only nonprofit dedicated exclusively to funding cancer cell and gene therapy research. ACGT was founded in 2001 by Edward and Barbara Netter, who resisted the notion that cell and gene therapy could not treat cancer.

“You get that by having a leadership with great instincts, leadership that is passionate, and leadership that has grit.”  — Crystal Mackall, MD, of Stanford University

She then returned the focus to the donors in attendance – and those who could not make the event – for their persistence in supporting ACGT and advancing cell and gene therapy studies. 

“Thank you for your inspiration, your passion, your commitment, and your grit,” Dr. Mackall said. “It is truly lifting all boats.” 

Dr. Mukherjee explains international reach of cell and gene therapy

Dr. Mukherjee is a pioneering physician, oncologist, and author who has redefined our public discourse on human health, medicine and science. A profoundly influential voice in the scientific community, he is best known for his books:

  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which earned him the 2011 Pulitzer Prize
  • The Gene: An Intimate History, which won international awards and was recognized by The Washington Post and The New York Times as one of the most influential books of 2016
  • The Song of the Cell: The Transformation of Medicine and the New Human
  • A TED Original book, The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science
Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, delivers a keynote speech to the crowd at the ACGT Awards Luncheon.

As the keynote speaker during the ACGT Awards Luncheon, he told the audience a story about CAR T-cell therapy expanding to India. With the help of Dr. June and Dr. Bruce Levine, Dr. Mukherjee built the first CAR T-cell therapy treatment center in Bangalore, India. It opened in December 2021.

The first patient, a young boy with blood cancer, had an unknown connection to Dr. Mukherjee. The patient, who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was treated in June 2022. He happened to be the son of a security guard at the hotel where Dr. Mukherjee stays during visits to the country.

“The next time I visited, the boy’s father had stayed up waiting for me. It was 3 a.m. and it wasn’t his shift. He waited for me.”  — Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD

When he asked how the boy was doing, the father said, “He played cricket today.” The answer was representative of how the young boy is living a fulfilling childhood thanks to cell and gene therapy. Dr. Mukherjee even called the patient “India’s Emily Whitehead,” referring to the first child ever to receive CAR T-cell therapy for cancer. 

Emily received the treatment in a clinical trial featuring the ACGT-funded research of Dr. June. She is alive more than 10 years after her treatment, and many consider her cured of her acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

Her inspiring story – along with ACGT’s donors – led to the survival story shared by Dr. Mukherjee at the Awards Luncheon. 

“I’m very proud of everyone who enabled this, because it didn’t exist not long ago,” Dr. Mukherjee said. 

“It’s a privilege and honor to be here with you.”