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Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, D.Phil

Director, Abramson Cancer Center
Perelman School of Medicine
John H. Glick Abramson Cancer Center Professor
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Current Research

  • Seeking to advance the use of immunotherapy in breast cancer.
  • Several clinical trials are ongoing to test novel approaches in immunotherapy and combination treatments.
  • These "proof-of-concept” clinical trials may reveal new opportunities for immunotherapy for patients with breast cancer.

Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s immune system to kill tumors. For patients, with melanoma, and lung and some other cancers, immunotherapy has been successful in improving long-term outcomes. For breast cancer patients, however, the success of immunotherapy has been limited to relatively few patients with certain types of breast cancer. Dr. Vonderheide is conducting a series of “proof of concept” clinical trials in that he hopes will uncover new opportunities in immunotherapy for breast cancer patients.

Full Research Summary

Although great advances have been achieved in immunotherapy for cancer, many of the newly approved therapies are not effective for most patients with breast cancer. Dr. Vonderheide believes that a direct vaccine against breast cancer is necessary to generate an immune response. His goal is to establish methods that will not only treat breast cancer, but also prevent it.

His team is currently conducting a series of “proof-of-concept” clinical trials designed to reveal new opportunities for immunotherapy for patients with breast cancer. If the clinical results are successful, this would justify initiating a large trial to demonstrate clinical effectiveness.

Three clinical trials are underway to test: (1) Genetically engineered T cells (“CAR T cells”) to target breast cancer cells; (2) A DNA vaccine for high-risk patients in remission after adjuvant therapy; (3) Specialized radiation therapy in combination with dual checkpoint blockade.

Each trial is actively enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center. Please contact Colleen Redlinger for details: 215-220-9693;


Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, is Director, Abramson Cancer Center, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the John H. Glick, MD Abramson Cancer Center’s Director Professor. Dr. Vonderheide graduated from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and Harvard Medical School. He completed training in internal medicine and medical oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Vonderheide is a distinguished scientist and clinician who has deciphered mechanisms of cancer immune surveillance and developed novel cancer therapeutics, particularly in pancreatic cancer. He is well-recognized for driving the development of agonist CD40 antibodies, now in later stage clinical trials as potential immune therapy of cancer. Dr. Vonderheide discovered telomerase as a universal tumor antigen and has led the efforts to develop telomerase vaccination for both therapy and the prevention of cancer in healthy individuals. He has helped lead a team to show that stereotactic radiation therapy in combination with dual checkpoint blockade represents a synergistic path for immune activation in cancer. Dr. Vonderheide merges his clinical investigations with rigorous studies in laboratory model systems. Dr. Vonderheide has been continuously funded by the NCI, and his high-impact findings have been published in Nature, Science, Cell and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Vonderheide R

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus