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Photo: Courtesy of the Abramson Cancer Center

Penn Medicine named internationally renowned cancer immunotherapy and translational research expert Robert Vonderheide as the next director of the Abramson Cancer Center earlier this month.

The ACC was established in 1973 as a National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and serves “as the focus and stimulus for all cancer-related activities at the University,” according to the NIH website.

Previously holding the position of associate director for translational research at the ACC, Vonderheide will succeed Chi Van Dang, who has been the ACC’s director since 2011, starting on July 1.

“Dr. Vonderheide’s career at Penn has been marked by continuous innovation in areas that were scarcely a possibility in the field when he arrived here in 2001,” Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine J. Larry Jameson said, according to a statement in Penn Medicine News.

He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame before going on to receive a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was later recruited to work at the ACC in 2001.

“What really attracted me to Penn,” Vonderheide said, “was the collaborative spirit around discovery, innovation and translation that has led to our being preeminent in the country for that kind of work.”

Vonderheide added that he is excited about the prospects for novel cancer treatments coming from the current research being conducted at the ACC.

“In my own work and in collaboration with many others at the cancer center,” he said, “we’re trying to devise a vaccine that would protect individuals from developing cancer in the first place.”

Vonderheide said he is also looking to address challenges associated with the availability of treatment. He plans to utilize the resources at the ACC, including a specific branch dedicated to social health analysis, to increase access of cancer treatment to local communities.

Vonderheide’s appointment coincides with other major developments in cancer research at Penn, including news of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. Biden will be working with the ACC to bolster cancer immunotherapy research.

“Vice President Biden is a dear friend of Penn, Penn medicine and the [ACC], and he is absolutely right,” Vonderheide said. “What he is articulating, particularly in cancer, is this is our moment.”

“The inflection point is coming, it’s here, it’s upon us, and we want to capitalize on new advances in science, new advances in clinical care, to make the biggest possible impact for the health of our patients.”

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