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PHILADELPHIA — A promising class of drugs known as CD40 monoclonal antibodies could be the spark needed to light the fire in the immune system of patients who don’t respond to the newer cancer immunotherapies.

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and an internationally renowned cancer immunotherapy expert, makes the case for the drugs in a new perspective piece published this week in Cancer Cell, as part of a series in the issue focusing on the next phase of the evolving field of cancer immunotherapy.

“The ‘immuno revolution’ is upon us: We’re battling cancers like never before by tapping into the power of the immune system with checkpoint inhibitors and personalized cellular therapies that have elicited stellar responses in patients,” Vonderheide said. “But there is a bittersweet quality to these successes: many patients do not respond or quickly relapse after an initial response.”

The PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab, for example, is approved for use as a first-line therapy for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer that overexpresses PD-L1, which cancer cells use to hide from the immune system, yet nearly 30 percent of patients don’t respond to the therapy

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