Two new studies funded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy offer signs of hope that a combination of drugs could help combat pancreatic cancer, which is generally considered very difficult to treat.
The studies haven’t been published yet, but researchers are reporting some early results. Out of 24 patients in the first study, 14 had their tumor shrink, and two saw their disease stabilize. In the second study, 17 out of 19 patients saw their tumors shrink or stop growing, and one patient had a complete response, meaning there was no remaining evidence of cancer.Read More
Immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer hasn’t historically worked that well. “Up until now, immunotherapy hasn't had a big role,” says Dr. Ocean. “Now this study is combining two immunotherapy drugs with frontline standard chemotherapy, and we're seeing response rates that are significantly better than what was published with other chemotherapies alone.”
But in this study, the treatment seems to be working for long periods of time (for pancreatic cancer). “The other important takeaway of the trial is that many of the patients that did get a response, the response lasted for a very long time so that's important, too,” says Dr. Ocean. “I think it was ten months or more, which is a long time in this disease, when only 20% of people are alive at one year after diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer. So if they are on one drug that they are getting a durable response from for ten months, then that’s very good.”
And after patients have received this treatment, they may still be able to receive other treatments as well. “If this is the first regimen that people are getting and it’s already putting them in a survival of almost a year,” , if the disease decides to go again, there are still a lot of tools they haven't used yet,” Dr. Ocean says. “So it could change the number of people alive for one year, or two or five years even potentially.”
Dr. Ocean Co-Founded Let’s Win, a resource for information about pancreatic cancer. Dr. Robert Vonderheide, lead investigator on these studies, serves on the board of Let’s Win.