A breakthrough vaccine could help cure pancreatic cancer


A breakthrough vaccine could help cure pancreatic cancer

A new vaccine using the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 could be a breakthrough in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

In a promising early study conducted by German company BioNTech – which worked with Pfizer to develop the life-saving COVID shot – half of the patients remained cancer-free 18 months after their tumor was removed and the injection was given.

The groundbreaking study – led by Dr. Vinod Balachandran at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan – presented their promising results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago on Sunday.

Doctors said the results showed the vaccine could train the immune system to kill pancreatic cancer cells by boosting immune cells that target tumors.

The study was conducted on 16 patients, each of whom received eight doses of the individualized vaccine made using the mRNA genetic code found in each of their tumors.

BioNTech co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Prof. Özlem Türeci (right) described the results of the study as “promising”.

The patients received their injections after surgery to remove a tumor.

The results showed that the injection elicited a T-cell response in eight of the 16 patients who remained cancer-free for the entire duration of the study.

The remaining patients who did not respond to the vaccine died or saw their cancer come back.

“Unlike some other immunotherapies, these mRNA vaccines appear to have the ability to stimulate immune responses in patients with pancreatic cancer,” Balachandran said of the promising preliminary results.

“We are very excited about this and the early results that suggest you may have a better outcome if you have an immune response.”

Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with 90 percent of patients dying within two years of their diagnosis, BioNTech found.

The German biotech company described the early attempt as “encouraging”.

“We are determined to take up this challenge, using our many years of research in cancer vaccinology and trying to break new ground in the treatment of such difficult-to-treat tumors,” says Prof. Özlem, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech Türeci said.

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

Balachandran added that the results should also be welcome news for other cancer patients.

“Pancreatic cancer has been the poster child for a cancer that is very difficult to treat with traditional chemotherapy and immunotherapy,” he said.

“Any possibility of treating pancreatic cancer with a new therapy will hopefully pave the way for us to start testing now [mRNA cancer vaccines] wider.”

Woman in heavy protective gear grabbing a bottle.
Doctors said the results showed the vaccine could train the immune system to kill pancreatic cancer cells by boosting immune cells that target tumors.
Associated Press

The hopeful results come as another exciting study, conducted on 18 patients with rectal cancer, had a 100 percent success rate, according to an article published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Aside from not requiring further treatment to eradicate the disease, the patients experienced no cancer recurrence during follow-up visits six to 25 months after the end of the study.

But while encouraging, the doctors noted that the study is small and the results needed to be replicated.

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