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Hopes for new immunotherapy treatment

Posted by: Research 30 October 2015

New research into the development of a potential new immunotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer has been reported today in the media.

The research, published yesterday in the journal Cancer Cell, was carried out by scientists at the University of Washington who have been developing and testing various strategies against pancreatic cancer in their lab. In this piece of research, the team were investigating the use of T cells to find, attack and kill pancreatic cancer cells. T cells form part of our immune system – the system of processes and structures that our bodies use to fight and protect against disease. The research team purposefully engineered the T cells to recognise and destroy cells which held a protein called mesothelin, a protein that is commonly overproduced by pancreatic cancer cells.

In order to administer the T cell therapy, the research firstly delivered a drug called Cytoxan to deplete levels of natural T cells, and then administered the engineered T cells into the bloodstream which could grow in the space left behind. After eight days they observed that large numbers of the engineered T cells had migrated to the pancreatic cancer tumour and were showing cancer killing effects.

The researchers then began to see levels of engineered T cells reducing – the cells had limited survival time. In order to counteract this, the team decided to embark on a new strategy of giving repeated doses every two weeks in order to ensure that levels remained high. Overall they saw a significant increase in survival time when using the new T cell therapy.

The team is now working on refining the therapy and are hoping to launch an early phase clinical trial in the next year. Trials are designed to be carried out in a number of different stages – initially to test treatments and then to compare these new treatments with what is currently available and to assess long term effectiveness. This early phase trial would aim firstly to test the safety of the therapy for patients.

Leanne Reynolds, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK says: “Research into the use of the body’s own immune system through immunotherapy has shown real promise for the treatment of other conditions and we’re delighted that these findings have shown positive results for pancreatic cancer. We welcome research aiming to develop new treatment avenues for pancreatic cancer, which has the worst survival rate of all the 21 most common cancers and currently has few treatment options.

"A clinical trial is now planned within the next year and we will be very interested to follow the development of further research in this area. However, we are still a way off from knowing if this will lead to a successful treatment option for pancreatic cancer.”