Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers Dr. Sunil Hingorani and Dr. Phil Greenberg have found that a specialized type of immunotherapy has boosted pancreatic cancer survival rates in mice by more than 75 percent, even when used without chemotherapy or radiation. The results are so promising that human clinical trials are planned within the next year.
Pancreatic cancer is especially lethal because it utilizes the body’s natural systems to construct a tough barrier and an immune-cloaking device that keeps disease-fighting immune cells from recognizing the cancer. Pancreatic tumors can also survive with a reduced blood supply and are prone to metastasizing to other parts of the body.
The immunotherapy uses genetically engineered T-cells that are administered through the bloodstream and attack the protein mesothelin, which is overproduced by nearly all pancreatic tumors.
“As best we can tell, this would be a better therapy than anything that exists for pancreatic cancer right now,” Greenberg said. “It’s hard to be this optimistic without ever having treated a pancreatic cancer patient with this [therapy], but the biology of what we’re doing looks so remarkably true and good.”