Researcher Spotlight

Researcher Spotlight: Yong Gu Lee, PhD

The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania


Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and is the most common hematologic malignancy in the US. The prognosis for DLBCL patients who are multiply-relapsed or refractory is inferior. Tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah) and axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta) are two FDA-approved CD19-targeting CAR T cell therapies (CART19) used for the treatment of relapsed/refractory DLBCL. However, follow-up studies have shown only up to 30% percent of DLBCL patients treated with CART19 are in complete remission in the long term, and up to 40 percent of relapses show a loss of CD19 in lymphoma cells. “There is a dire need to develop next-generation CAR T cells to treat patients with CD19-negative disease,” explains Dr. Lee. To deal with this challenge, Dr. Lee’s LRF grant project proposes developing a novel CAR T cell that targets CD79, a key mediator of B-cell receptor signaling, which plays a crucial role in the progression of B-cell malignancy. He expects to develop the best-in-class CAR T cell against CD79 and generate potent dual CAR T cells to increase the cure rates of DLBCL patients.
Dr. Lee completed his PhD from Purdue University. Dr. Lee’s passion for lymphoma research stems from the significant subset of patients that do not respond well to CART19. “This unmet medical need motivates and challenges me to investigate the development of potent CAR T cell therapy for lymphoma,” he says. The uncertainty in this field is his crucial motivation to continue pursuing clinical research. Dr. Lee hopes to become an independent researcher with a concentration in CAR T cells and continue to develop an understanding of the biology of lymphoma and the development/improvement of cellular immunotherapy. “The LRF Postdoctoral Fellowship will be a major support for me, allowing me to fully devote myself to research and providing an essential opportunity for me to launch my career toward being an independent translational scientist,” Dr. Lee shares.