A pancreatic cancer vaccine has shown promise in a small but significant study, researchers announced Wednesday.
The vaccine provoked an immune response in some patients that prevented a relapse of their cancer, researchers announced Wednesday.
The study, which included 16 patients, saw half of them respond to the vaccine, which instructed their immune systems to recognize and fight off the cancer cells. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature.
The vaccine is being produced by BioNTech, the company that partnered with Pfizer to create the COVID-19 vaccine.
The cancer vaccine works in a similar way as the COVID-19 vaccine using memory RNA.
The vaccines are targeted to each specific patient. Surgeons remove the tumors and samples are sent to Germany where researchers analyze the genetic makeup of certain proteins on the surface of the cancer cells.
BioNTech scientists then use that information to create personalized vaccines designed to teach each patient’s immune system to attack the tumors.
According to the company, the mRNA vaccines teach patients’ cells to make some of the same proteins found on the tumors, hoping to provoke an immune response that would look for and kill cancer cells.
The study lasted for 18 months, and none of the eight who responded to the vaccine has seen their cancer return.
The usual time for a person’s pancreatic cancer to return without the mRNA treatment is eight to 13 months.
All eight who responded to the vaccine made T-cells against their tumors, and those T-cells have persisted for at least two years. In those two years, the participants had a follow-up course of chemotherapy.
Six of the eight participants who did not respond to the vaccine have seen their cancer return, CNN reported.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Nearly 90% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not survive more than two years.
This year, an estimated 64,050 adults (33,130 men and 30,920 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to cancer.net.
Scientists are calling the study promising.
“This is the first demonstrable success — and I will call it a success, despite the preliminary nature of the study — of an mRNA vaccine in pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Anirban Maitra, a specialist in the disease at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told the New York Times. Maitra was not involved in the study.
“By that standard, it’s a milestone.”
The treatment is expensive but has come down some since BioNTEch began its research into cancer vaccines. The cost of the treatment 10 years ago was around $350,000 per dose. It is around $100,000 now, thanks to automating parts of production, according to the Times.