In a bid to help doctors treat pancreatic cancer in a better way, a team of MIT researchers has developed an immunotherapy strategy.
The study, published in the journal cancer Cell, indicates that the immunotherapy strategy has shown that it can eliminate pancreatic tumors in mice.
The new therapy, which is a combination of three drugs that help boost the body’s immune defenses against tumors, is likely to enter clinical trials later this year.
“We don’t have a lot of good options for treating pancreatic cancer. It’s a devastating disease clinically,” said researcher William Freed-Pastor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
According to the researchers, pancreatic cancer, which affects about 60,000 Americans every year, is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. After diagnosis, fewer than 10 percent of patients survive for five years.
The researchers said that the body’s immune system contains T cells that can recognize and destroy cells that express cancerous proteins, but most tumors create a highly immunosuppressive environment that disables these T cells, helping the tumour to survive.
Immune checkpoint therapy — the most common form of immunotherapy currently being used clinically — works by removing the brakes on these T cells, rejuvenating them so they can destroy tumours.
One class of immunotherapy drug that has shown success in treating many types of cancer targets the interactions between PD-L1, a cancer-linked protein that turns off T cells, and PD-1, the T cell protein that PD-L1 binds to.
Drugs that block PD-L1 or PD-1, also called checkpoint inhibitors, have been approved to treat cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, but they have very little effect on pancreatic tumours.
Alongside the clinical trial, the MIT team plans to analyse which types of pancreatic tumours might respond best to this drug combination.