Thirteen-year-old Emily Whitehead, who six years ago was suffering from an aggressive form of leukemia, is alive and well and in remission, thanks to the pioneering work in immunotherapy by Dr. Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Grupp has since traveled throughout the world to teach doctors in other countries about using this therapy to treat children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a result, Citizen Diplomacy International, an organization that seeks to foster connections between Philadelphia and the global community, honored Grupp this month at its second annual “Citizens Soiree: A Dinner for Diplomacy” at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Boston native and current Havertown resident, Grupp is director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Frontier Program and chief of the Section of Cell Therapy and Transplant at CHOP. In collaboration with Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the pharmaceutical company Novartis, Grupp led global clinical trials of a cancer immunotherapy, called CAR T-cell therapy, for children with a type of leukemia not responding to treatment. He traveled with University of Pennsylvania researchers to various medical sites and hospitals around the world to educate doctors and researchers about CAR T-cell therapy, the first-ever FDA approved personalized, cellular gene therapy for advanced B-cell leukemias in children and young adults. Grupp traveled to 25 medical centers in 11 countries. The positive reception and the data that followed helped propel the FDA approval.
“Philadelphia has been the birthplace of many great inventions,” said Siobhan Lyons, president and CEO of Citizen Diplomacy International, adding that Grupp’s understanding of international affairs has helped him to stand out. “Dr. Grupp is a world leader in high-tech medical breakthroughs and innovation in the life sciences, one of the most important and growing sectors in Philadelphia.”
Grupp, whose parents emigrated from Germany and became U.S. citizens, said being recognized for his international efforts is exciting.
Through his experience in working with doctors worldwide, Grupp has also explained how critical it is to navigate cultural communication differences between countries to successfully share treatment. For example, during a meeting in Japan, he and his colleague were pleased with how smoothly the communication was going, but decided to circle back and ask about a specific hard-to-get drug that was critical for treating a child if an adverse reaction occurred. As it turned out, the Japanese doctors did not have the drug. Through such experiences, Grupp realized that lives could be lost if he did not successfully build trust with his peers to promote the honest sharing of knowledge.
According to Lyons, Grupp was selected as this year’s Citizen Diplomacy International honoree because of his efforts to “change the world” through new medical breakthroughs. The organization stands behind his mission to provide cutting-edge cancer treatment to people all around the world.
“Dr. Grupp’s work is an example of how to promote Philadelphia as a leader in science and tech entrepreneurship, as well as a prime gateway to the United States,” said Lyons.