May 11, 2023 – Early results for new personalized pancreatic cancer vaccines are so promising that even the researchers themselves are surprised.
Using experimental vaccines made from people’s own pancreatic cancer tumors may have prevented the ferocious disease from coming back in half of those who got the treatment, according to a small study published this week in the journal Nature.
About 80% of people with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma usually see the cancer return around 14 months after surgery, and less than 30% live another 5 years, the researchers wrote. Among 16 people who got the personalized vaccines, eight people showed no signs of the cancer returning after 18 months and their bodies showed a remarkably strong immune response.
The vaccines use the mRNA technology that became well-known for its use in COVID-19 vaccines. This study of pancreatic cancer mRNA vaccines was launched before the pandemic began. It was led by researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and also by researchers in Germany.
“These exciting results indicate we may be able to use vaccines as a therapy against pancreatic cancer,” Sloan Kettering surgeon and researcher Vinod Balachandran, MD, said in a statement. “The evidence supports our strategy to tailor each vaccine to each patient’s tumor.”
The mRNA vaccines teach the immune system to attack the cancer cells. The novel approach is especially important because existing therapies for this type of cancer, like chemotherapy, usually still result in a quick recurrence of the disease.
As next steps, the researchers will continue monitoring the 16 people who got the treatment, including trying to understand why half of them had a recurrence. A second, larger study is also planned.