The road to the 2020 Sanford Lorraine Cross Award continues following the announcement of the top three nominees Sept. 29.
Each of them is recognized for breakthroughs in medical science in their fields which, this year, include cystic fibrosis, CAR T-cell therapy and infectious disease.
Sanford Health News caught up with the nominees as they took in their nominations. While 2020 marks only the second Lorraine Cross Award, they’re quickly learning about its caliber and the process by which the Scientific Advisory Board narrows down fields and nominees.
Mark Denison, MD
Dr. Mark Denison is the director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, principal investigator of the Denison Lab and professor of Pediatrics and Pathology at Vanderbilt University.
Once Dr. Denison read into the inaugural 2018 winners Drs. Katherine High and Jean Bennett, he thought his nomination was some kind of mistake.
“I was reading about it,” Dr. Denison tells Sanford Health News. “My first thought was, ‘how did they find me’? I thought ‘was there a problem? Was there a mistake here?'”
He references 2018 finalist Dr. Jim Wilson.
“That is stunning, lifelong work,” Dr. Denison said. “So, I realized this is exceptionally important and serious. As I read about the process, I recognized that this was something that could have a long-term impact over many years. I went home and told my wife, ‘I can’t believe this.’ It was so exciting.”
Dr. Denison is recognized for his decades-long work studying coronaviruses which led to his eventual discovery of remdesivir as a therapeutic solution for the current COVID-19 pandemic. His work has received coverage from The New Yorker, CNN, the New York Times and others.
Carl June, MD
Dr. Carl June is the director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It was was really amazing to learn about this award,” Dr. Carl June said, as he’s recognized for his discovery of CAR T-cell therapies to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His therapy is now named KYMRIAH by Novartis and is FDA-approved.
When learning more about Sanford Health, he was impressed by its international reach — specifically with the Sanford World Clinic.
Dr. June adds this 2020 Sanford Lorraine Cross Award nomination to a Nobel Prize nomination and recognition in Time Magazine as one of their “100 Most Interesting People” — among others.
He’s humbled to be among the other two nominees and looks forward to the process.
“That’s an amazing, accomplished group of people. Just meeting them is going to be something I really look forward to in this process.”
Michael Welsh, MD
Dr. Michael Welsh is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, director of Pappajohn Biomedical Institute and professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine.
“I was excited,” Dr. Welsh said. “This is really cool. It had me think about Sanford Health and wondering why they are doing this.”
He is recognized for his work creating a unifying understanding of cystic fibrosis to guide the creation of later treatments for nearly 90% of cystic fibrosis patients. His work has been widely covered in the New York Times among other recognition for propelling research forward.
“I realized that, as a health care company, they must know if you want a better diagnosis and better treatment, there’s one way to get there: through medical research. What this says is discoveries, these new treatments and cures don’t come out of thin air,” Dr. Welsh said. “They come out of hard work and biomedical research. With this prize, I believe they are recognizing that and helping other people recognize that around the country and really, around the world.
“It’s just very gratifying and humbling because there are so many additional people who are part of these nominations. I hope others will take joy from this and recognize well how much their work means.”
The Sanford Lorraine Cross Award is held every two years. The 2020 event was postponed from December to April 13, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sanford Health News continues its coverage as the 2020 winner is announced.
- Inaugural Lorraine Cross Award winners: Where are they now?
- Meet the 2020 Sanford Lorraine Cross Scientific Advisory Board
- Why the Lorraine Cross Award is important to Sanford