New documentary features Carl June's CAR T-cell breakthrough

Jun 13, 2022
Devin Golden

Many of the people behind “Of Medicine and Miracles” gathered last month with director Ross Kauffman and producer Robin Honan to celebrate Emily Whitehead’s 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free. Photo courtesy of Penn Medicine and the Emily Whitehead Foundation.

Ten years ago, 6-year-old Emily Whitehead became the first child to receive CAR T-cell therapy in a historic clinical trial led by Carl June, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania. A decade later, Emily remarkably remains cancer-free with no signs of the leukemia that resisted other therapies and made her family fear the worst outcome imaginable.

This inspiring story – from Dr. June’s initial CAR T-cell therapy research to Emily and her family’s difficult treatment journey to her incredible 10-year survival milestone – is being told in an upcoming documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

“Of Medicine and Miracles” made its debut in NYC theaters last Sunday (June 12) and has four show times, with the last on June 19. The 95-minute documentary will also be available to everyone for streaming at home on your digital devices on Tuesday (June 14) at 6 p.m. eastern time. You can purchase a ticket to watch in a theater or at home through the Tribeca Film Festival website.

The documentary depicts a story of persistence and courage from brilliant scientists, a brave young patient, and a family that refused to stop looking for a new option.

Dr. Carl June talks about the grant he received in 2004 from Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

Dr. June is one of the first cell and gene therapy researchers funded by Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT). The funding he received from ACGT led to him and others at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center developing the first effective CAR T-cell therapy for blood cancers like Emily’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

CAR T-cell therapy reprograms patients’ T cells to look for cancer cells expressing a specific protein. Dr. June is now a member of ACGT’s prestigious Scientific Advisory Council, which guides the Alliance in funding new cell and gene therapy research that may ultimately lead to cures for cancer.

“Of Medicine and Miracles” follows Dr. June’s medical breakthrough, along with Emily and her family learning that Dr. June’s therapy was available in a clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. Dr. June and Emily’s paths crossing led to one of the most inspirational and influential cancer survival stories ever, as it has led to many additional breakthroughs in cell and gene therapy.

Academy Award winner Ross Kauffman directs the documentary, which Tribeca Film Festival Director Cara Cusumano called “a tear-jerking, heart-racing record of medical history that honors its subjects and their trauma while empowering future generations to attempt the impossible.”