Titles and Affiliations

Director, Abramson Cancer Center
John H. Glick, MD Abramson Cancer Center Director’s Professor
Vice Dean, Cancer Programs, Perelman School of Medicine
Vice President, Cancer Programs, University of Pennsylvania Health System
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Research area

Developing new immune therapies, including vaccines, for breast cancer patients.

Impact

Re-igniting our immune systems to fight off cancer is one of the most promising new pathways for cancer therapy. The initial boom of drugs in this field, “immunotherapies,” produced exciting results in melanoma and lung cancer, but to date have limited impact in breast cancer. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential and have much more to understand about how to make them work effectively in all patients. Dr. Vonderheide and his team are working to not only improve currently available immunotherapies, but also develop new drugs that enhance the immune system in breast cancer patients.

Progress Thus Far

Recent successes in early-stage vaccine trials from Dr. Vonderheide and his team led to an exciting new trial in breast cancer for individuals with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, which is now open and accruing patients. The trial has two patient cohorts: patients with BRCA-associated breast cancer, and individuals without cancer who also carry a mutation in BRCA. This will be the first prevention vaccine ever tested in this high-risk population. The team is also completing biological analysis from trials using other immunotherapy modalities—performing these post-study analyses helps the team better understand how these therapies function and improve upon them for the future. The trials include one that used engineered cells, or CAR-T’s, which are created to specifically attack tumors. The other trial tested the combination of checkpoint inhibitor therapy, which is designed to enhance anti-tumor immunity, in combination with different doses of radiation.

What’s Next

In the coming year, Dr. Vonderheide’s team will continue enrolling in the vaccine trial, aiming to achieve at least 50% enrollment in the BRCA cancer cohort this year. In the future, they will complete enrollment for both patient cohorts. If successful, they will design a large-scale trial for immunoprevention in BRCA1/2 carriers. 

Biography

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, is the Director of the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the John H. Glick, MD, Abramson Cancer Center’s Director Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine. He is Vice Dean for Cancer Programs at PSOM and Vice President of Cancer Programs for the University of Pennsylvania Health System. He serves as Lead Physician for the Cancer Service Line of the Health System.

Dr. Vonderheide graduated from the University of Notre Dame (Chemical Engineering) and obtained his DPhil in immunology from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the Massachusetts General and a fellowship in medical oncology at the Dana Farber. As an NIH-funded investigator at Penn Medicine, Dr. Vonderheide directs a research team focused on cancer immunology and immunotherapy. He has published more than 160 peer-reviewed manuscripts with senior-author papers in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature, Cancer Cell, and the New England Journal of Medicine. He is well-known for deciphering the immune mechanisms of CD40 activation in cancer and directing clinical trials of novel immunotherapy.

Nationally, Dr. Vonderheide is a member of the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Advisers, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Board of Directors, and serves as Deputy Editor of Cancer Immunology Research. He is an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation (serving on the ASCI council from 2014-2017) and American Association of Physicians.

BCRF Investigator Since

2007

Donor Recognition

The Leonard and Judy Lauder Fund Award

Areas of Focus