Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer Studied
Experimental Vaccine Appears to Extend Lives; So Do Chemo and Radiation
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 22, 2007 (Orlando) -- A novel vaccine that encourages the immune system
to seek out and destroy tumor cells shows promise for treating pancreatic
In a new study, pancreatic cancer patients who were given the experimental
vaccine lived an average of 27 months.
That may not sound like much, but pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest
cancer, with most victims surviving only 18 or 19 months after diagnosis, says
Charles A. Staley, MD, head of surgical oncology at Emory University in
“With pancreatic cancer, we’ve been failing for so long,” he tells WebMD.
“Most advances are the results of baby steps like this.”
Staley, who was not involved with the work, moderated a news conference to
discuss the findings at the 2007 Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium being held
How the Vaccine Works
Unlike flu and many other vaccines, most cancer vaccines under development
are not intended to be given to healthy people to prevent disease.
Rather, they help sick patients bolster their immune system to better fight
In this case, the goal is to re-educate the immune system to recognize
pancreatic cancer cells as foreign invaders that need to be attacked and
annihilated, says researcher Daniel A. Laheru, MD, an assistant professor at
the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
Usually, pancreatic cancer cells fly under the radar of the immune system,
evading the body’s surveillance mechanisms, he tells WebMD.
Educating Immune Cells
To overcome that obstacle, the injectable vaccine uses irradiated pancreatic
cancer cells that can no longer grow but are genetically altered to lure the
body's immune cells.
When the immune cells encounter the irradiated cancer cells, they go to
“The cancer cells, which weren’t previously recognized as foreign by immune
cells, are now recognized as being foreign,” Laheru says.
The revved-up immune cells go on the offensive, not only wiping out the
irradiated cancer cells that have been injected into the patient, but also
patrolling the body and killing off active cancer cells in their path.
Tested in 60 Patients
For the new study, researchers used the vaccine in addition to conventional
surgery and postoperative chemotherapy and radiation in 60 people with
The vaccine was injected eight to 10 weeks after surgery, with four boosters
given in the nine monthsafter chemotherapy and radiation.
Over the next two years, 24% of the participants died.
For comparison, 58% of people who get surgery alone (without the vaccine or
chemotherapy and radiation) would be expected to die over the two-year period,