Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal malignancies, fatal in 88% of patients. It is also one of the most difficult to treat. The tumors can be surgically removed, but return within seven to nine months in 90 percent of patients. Chemotherapy can help prolong life, but even this is rarely a cure. Radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapies also don’t work.
Today, almost three years after her diagnosis, a woman tells American journalists that regular scans have found no trace of cancer in her pancreas. But she is one of the few patients who have been given a chance at life through an experimental therapy – a personalized cancer vaccine – tested by BioNTech, one of the companies that contributed to the creation of messenger RNA vaccines for Covid-19. Barbara Brigham was one of 16 participants in a recent test of the new technology.
The results of the study were published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. Of the 16 patients who were able to complete all phases of the study, eight responded to the vaccine, which taught their immune systems how to recognize and fight cancer cells. None of the eight saw their cancer return. In blood tests, all eight responders made T cells against their tumors, and these persisted for at least two years, despite a subsequent course of chemotherapy.
Of the eight patients who did not respond adequately to the vaccine, only two did not see their cancer return.
“I think it’s really promising. This test shows the efficiency of the messenger RNA platform and its versatility. The method allows doctors to tailor these vaccines to each patient’s specific tumor in a relatively short time,” said Dr. Neeha Zaidi, an oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.