Vague endows Penn immunotherapy chair

(Adds Vague comments) Richard W. Vague, the former credit card mogul (First USA Bank; Barclaycard USA) who sold his University City company, EnergyPlus, to NRG Corp. for $190 million last year, has endowed a Professorship in Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Carl H. June will be named to the post at a ceremony at Penn's Simlow Center for Translational Research on Dec. 5.

Vague says he's supporting June's promising immunotherapy, which alters the DNA of T-cells that attack disease. He says the treatment, which patients find difficult and debilitating, works in a period of weeks on healthy patients, and left three adult leukemia sufferers and a Harrisburg-area girl "cancer-free" after a year.

June's group hopes to match that success with a larger trial of pancreatic cancer patients, who are typically more resistant to treatment than leukemia patients.  Novartis beat out two rival drugmakers for the right to invest $20 million in Penn and June's "ultra-personalized therapy" in August.

Vague told me he agreed to back June after reviewing June's early results with biotech investor Brian Dovey, head of Philadelphia- and San Diego-based Domain Associates; with member of the biotech group at Morgan Stanley; and leaders of Philadelphia's Wistar Institute. All warned him that biotech cancer treatments are often promising in their early stages but can't be reproduced to scale; and that investment returns can take decades. So Vague made a contribution, hoping for social returns.