According to a small clinical trial, a new therapy consisting of a combination of an experimental drug that boosts the immune response and traditional chemotherapy stalled tumor growth and even shrank tumor size in pancreatic cancer patients.
The new research, which was published this week in The Lancet Oncology journal, also suggests that the new course of action could raise survival rates in these patients by making them eligible for life-saving surgery.
Nevertheless, scientists not involved in the study cautioned that the clinical trial should be confirmed by larger studies.
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer are low because the disease is often diagnosed when it is too late to have surgery. Clinicians usually try to stop tumor growth with chemotherapy and other drugs, but the prospects are dim.
Professor David Linehan, lead researcher involved in the trial and cancer expert at New York’s University of Rochester Medical Center, said that any treatment that would allow more pancreatic patients to undergo surgery was ‘exciting.’
The experimental drug tested in the trial, PF-04136309, targets specific cells in cancer tumors that prevent a genuine immune response to cancer spread. The drug can kickstart the immune system and force it to attack cancer cells.
The trial involved 47 pancreatic cancer patients. All participants were diagnosed with ductal adenocarcinoma after their tumors have already begun to spread. Of the volunteers, 39 were given the experimental therapy, while 8 were given chemotherapy.
Most of the 39 patients saw their tumors shrink or their cancer stop from spreading. In a single patient, the tumor vanished. Researchers said that the response rate in the larger group was nearly two times stronger than they originally expected.
The trial also showed that the new therapy has no severe side-effects and was well tolerated by most patients. According to study background data, while three patients declined to continue with the treatment due to side-effects, the rest tolerated the treatment as they did with chemotherapy.
Experts at Cancer Research UK noted that the world is in a ‘desperate need’ for a cure for pancreatic cancer. The group hailed the early stage study’s results and the clever strategy of combining a drug that enhances the immune response with conventional chemotherapy. Nevertheless, Cancer Research UK also called for larger trials to test the latest findings.
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