2020 - Malcolm Brenner

Malcolm K. Brenner Receives the 2020 ISCT Career Achievement Award in Cell & Gene Therapy: Flexibility and Resilience Leads to Excellence in Clinical Research and Mentorship

The International Society of Cell & Gene Therapy is proud to present the 2020 Career Achievement Award to Malcolm K. Brenner, MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCPath

Dr. Brenner is a premier clinical scientist whose career has been marked by a passion for excellence in research which was displayed during his leadership in some of the most advanced institutions globally in cell and gene therapy. Parallel to his scientific ambitions, Dr. Brenner also has a distinguished history of mentorship, most recently recognized through an award from the American Society of Hematology, and which can be attested to through an ever-growing list of mentees leading advancements in cell and gene therapy. Dr. Brenner’s notable contributions also include effective leadership in his roles as former president of both ISCT and the American Society for Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT).

The road to this point hasn’t always been smooth for Dr. Brenner – he has overcome some major obstacles along the way. Learn about how his flexibility and resilience have helped him get to where he is now.     

The stage is 1970s England, at the birth of cell therapy as a field. Bone marrow transplantation as a clinical process was being pioneered, resulting in an interest in using the immune system as a vehicle for treating diseases.

In this context, a young Malcolm Brenner set out to research acquired immunodeficiency, seeing in this specialization a chance to succeed in both science and medicine. Yet, when the focus of his peers and his field shifted towards other interests following the identification of AIDS, Dr. Brenner found himself on the search for a new research focus where he could leverage his training in immunology.

This led to a fateful pivot in his focus, towards research in bone marrow transplantation. Since he had been trained for another field, he met with initial skepticism from employers when he sought to work in transplantation. However, he successfully found his way to a position as a pediatric hematologist, and from there, to a successful role as a medical coordinator in the developing field. In this role Dr. Brenner with his team, conducted ground-breaking research on the transfer of bone marrow stem cells.

In these early days of transplantation therapy, Dr. Brenner found himself fascinated with the connections between transplanting bone marrow, and gene therapy – both processes which he saw as pathways to permanent cures for a range of disorders, rather than symptom-based treatments. Yet, striving to advance further, Dr. Brenner found a barrier in the regulatory gaps in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s.

I have never enjoyed being subjected to excessive regulation, and the increasing sclerosis of many aspects of our professional lives is certainly a disservice to our patients, but clearly any new scientific and medical strategy as potentially controversial as gene therapy needed to be discussed and agreed upon by all stakeholders before it could begin.” (Brenner 564)

To address this, Dr. Brenner found himself preparing for another pivot in his career. He would move to the United States, where regulatory forethought had set the stage for gene therapy’s advancement. Though initially meeting with further roadblocks, Brenner’s persistence and network eventually resulted in his leading the rebirth of the stem cell transplant program at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis,TN.

The pursuit of efficient and safe uses and vectors for gene therapy became a major focus of Dr. Brenner’s work. Notably, he and his colleagues published a breakthrough paper in 1993 on the use of gene-marking to track the outcomes of cells in order to further understand patient outcomes after the use of stem cell transplantation treatments. In doing so, they unlocked pathways to further research and safer practices around T-cell therapy and provided some of the much-needed groundwork for successful CAR-T treatments.

In 1998, Dr. Brenner and several colleagues were recruited to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX. Since then, in his roles as Director, then Founding Director, of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at the College, Dr. Brenner has spearheaded significant breakthroughs in deploying CAR-T treatments to target solid tumours, as well as to treat pediatric malignancies. Most recently, he has focused specifically on addressing the toxicity of CAR-T treatments by focusing on the iC9 safety switch which has led to successful clinical trials and regulatory approval.

 Dr. Brenner’s pioneering work on bone marrow stem cells in the early 1990s marked a promising development for cell therapy as a growing field, and his research today has followed up with significant advancements that will lead to safe and effective development of cell and gene therapy in the future.. Throughout his time working with research centers in the United Kingdom, and later the United States, Dr. Brenner combined his interest in the implications of immunotherapy approaches with his passion for mentoring a generation of clinical and research scientists in the implementation of this exciting new field of medical practice. His laboratory and clinical teams have produced numerous talented practitioners who have held leadership positions in the field and in this society.

I was very fortunate to experience a contrast of both outstanding and ineffective mentorship throughout my career and that of my wife. Seeing the difference that mentors made to our careers taught and inspired me throughout my own efforts to mentor newcomers to the field.”


Dr. Brenner’s contributions to the field are manifold and lifelong – he has worked to advance the field from the position of leadership across multiple scientific societies. His mentorship of young professionals has earned him distinguished recognition, and he continues to conduct and lead hands-on investigations as Founding Director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine.

ISCT is proud to honour this distinguished colleague for his contributions to the field and to those who work within it, and we offer our warmest congratulations to Dr. Malcolm K. Brenner.

The ISCT Career Achievement Award was created in 2016 to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of cellular therapy, including to ISCT itself. ISCT recognizes that the field of cellular therapy depends upon multiple contributing sources, including academia, regulatory affairs (including quality operations), and industry. Each source represents a pillar upon which the organization stands. Any member of ISCT may place a name in nomination for the award with supporting information outlining the rational for choosing the individual, their contributions to the field and the significance of those contributions. The nominees are reviewed and the most appropriate is selected by the ISCT Awards Sub-Committee. Final approval is by the ISCT Executive Committee. The award itself is presented at the ISCT Annual Meeting and includes a crystal award, $2,500 cash, travel, lodging, and registration for the meeting.

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