25.09.2022

New vaccine developed by BioNTech and Genentech could prevent deadliest cancer pancreatic returning

Experts have hailed a cutting-edge vaccine that could prevent pancreatic cancer from returning. Early trial results suggest the personalised vaccines prime the body to stop the deadly disease coming back. 

Only a quarter of patients survive for a year or more after diagnosis and pancreatic cancer often goes undetected because the immune system does not recognise the tumour cells as threats.

But a small subset of patients beat the odds after their tumour is removed. A team led by Dr Vinod Balachandran, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, found their tumours had a large number of pathogen-destroying T cells.

Expert have hailed a cutting-edge vaccine that could prevent pancreatic cancer from returning (stock image of a woman about to get a shot)

They designed a trial involving 16 people with pancreatic cancer who were given custom-made vaccines after undergoing surgery.

The vaccine uses a piece of genetic code from the tumour to teach cells to make a protein that will trigger an immune response.

This enables the body to ‘recognise’ the cancer as a threat and T cells to destroy it if it returns. In eight of the participants, the vaccine activated the T cells to recognise the disease. They remained cancer-free 18 months later.

Dr Balachandran told the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago: ‘For pancreas cancer, currently all therapies are largely ineffective.

‘The early results suggest that if you have an immune response, you may have a better outcome.’

Dr Chris MacDonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said a bespoke vaccine would be a ‘vital new weapon against the deadliest common cancer’ (stock image of an NHS ward in UK)

Most of the patients who did not respond to the vaccine saw their cancer return and some died.

The vaccine was developed with pharmaceutical giant BioNTech, which used similar mRNA technology to create the Covid jab, and US firm Genentech.

Dr Chris MacDonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said a bespoke vaccine would be a ‘vital new weapon against the deadliest common cancer’.

Around 10,500 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year, of whom 9,600 die.

WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease, and around 95 per cent of people who contract it die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, alongside about 55,000 in the US.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE?

It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.

WHO HAS THE HIGHEST RISK?

Most cases (90 per cent) are in people over the age of 55.

Around half of all new cases occur in people aged 75 or older.

One in 10 cases are attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health conditions, including diabetes.

WHY IS IT SO LETHAL?

There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer typically does not show symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable.

Sufferers tend to start developing the tell-tale signs – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?

The only effective treatment is removal of the pancreas.

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.

In those cases, palliative care is advised to ease their pain at the end of their life.

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