Breakthrough vaccine could help cure pancreatic cancer

Early trial results suggest personalised vaccines could stop deadly disease returning

Chiara Giordano
Wednesday 08 June 2022 09:56 BST
<p>A new vaccine developed using the same technology as the BioNTech-Pfizer Covid jab could be key to curing pancreatic cancer</p>

A new vaccine developed using the same technology as the BioNTech-Pfizer Covid jab could be key to curing pancreatic cancer

A new vaccine developed using the same technology as the BioNTech-Pfizer Covid jab has raised hopes of a cure for pancreatic cancer.

In early trial results of the jab - which uses mRNA theory and is designed to prevent tumours from returning after surgery - half of the patients given a vaccine remained cancer free 18 months later.

The inoculation, developed by scientists working with pharmaceutical firm BioNTech and US company Genentech, has raised hopes of finally finding a cure for the deadliest common cancer which claims the lives of 90 per cent of patients within two years of diagnosis.

The results of the groundbreaking trial, led by Dr Vinod Balachandran at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

They showed personalised vaccines could train the immune system to kill cells associated with pancreatic cancer.

A similar trial is also currently underway for bowel cancer – and Moderna, another Covid vaccine manufacturer, is also developing mNRA treatments for cancer and autoimmune conditions.

The early-stage pancreatic cancer trial involved 16 patients, who were given eight doses of a vaccine intravenously after surgery to remove a tumour.

The jabs were custom-made for each person using mRNA genetic code found in their tumours to teach cells to make a protein that will trigger an immune response.

This enables the body to detect any cancer cells as a threat and T cells, a type of white blood cell, then destroy them.

The vaccine triggered a T-Cell response in half the patients, who all remained cancer-free throughout the study.

Of the remaining eight patients who did not respond to the vaccine, six died or saw their cancer return.

BioNTech said the preliminary results showed “a favourable safety profile as well as encouraging signs of clinical activity”.

Prof Özlem Türeci, co-founder and chief medical officer at BioNTech, said: “With only under 5 per cent of patients responding to current treatment options, PDAC is one of the highest unmet medical need cancers.

“We are committed to take up this challenge by leveraging our long-standing research in cancer vaccinology and are trying to break new ground in the treatment of such hard-to-treat tumours.

“The results of this Phase 1 study are encouraging. We look forward to further evaluating these early results in a larger randomized study.”

Dr Balachandran added: “Unlike some of the other immunotherapies, these mRNA vaccines do appear to have the ability to stimulate immune responses in pancreatic cancer patients.

“So we’re very excited about that, and the early results that suggest that if you have an immune response you may have a better outcome.”

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