Unfortunately, despite the best clinical efforts and breakthroughs in biotechnology, most patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer continue to face the challenge of rapid progression of their disease. The primary reason for this is that the disease is typically without symptoms until significant local and/or distant spread has occurred.
An important part of the body now being looked at as a target for therapy against this disease is the immune system. Scientists have shown that pancreatic tumor cells produce a number of defective proteins, or express normal proteins in highly uncharacteristic ways, as part of this cancer. In some cancers, these abnormalities can cause an immune response to the cancer cells much in the way one responds to infected tissue. In progressive cancers however, the immune system fails to identify or respond to these abnormalities and the cancer cells are not attacked or destroyed for reasons not yet fully understood. This clinical trial proposes to stimulate the immune system to recognize the abnormal components found in pancreatic cancer cells and to stimulate an immune response that destroys or blocks the growth of the cancer.
This investigational method of treatment targets the immune system of pancreatic cancer patients to “identify” the cancerous tissue so that it can be eliminated from the body. As an example, most people are aware that patients with certain diseases may require an organ transplant to replace a damaged kidney or heart. After receiving their transplant these patients receive special drugs because they are at great danger of having an immune response that destroys or “rejects” the transplanted organ. This “rejection” occurs when their immune system responds to differences between the cells of the transplanted organ and their own immune system by attacking the foreign tissue in the same way as it would attack infected tissue. When the differences between foreign tissues and the patient’s body are even larger, perhaps like differences between organs from pigs and the immune system cells of humans, the rejection is very rapid, highly destructive and the immunity it generates is long lasting. This is called hyperacute rejection and the medicine used to immunize patients in this protocol tries to harness this response to teach a patient’s immune system to fight their pancreatic cancer just as the body would learn to reject a transplanted organ from an animal.
To do this, the investigators have placed a mouse gene into human pancreatic cancer cells so that the immune system will recognize the cells as foreign, stimulating the patient immune system to attack the vaccine cells just as they would any other animal cells. As part of the process of destroying the immunotherapy cells, the patient immune system is stimulated to identify as many differences from normal human as possible. This extra stimulation is thought to encourage immune responses against the pancreatic cancer in the patient based on shared abnormalities of pancreatic cancer vaccine cells and the patient’s pancreatic cancer cells.
In this experimental therapy, patients are given injections of an immunotherapy consisting of two types of cancer cells that the investigators have modified to make them more easily recognized and attacked by the immune system. The investigators propose to test this investigational treatment in patients with pancreatic cancer who have undergone tumor removal surgery but remain at extremely high risk of disease progression. The clinical trial proposes to demonstrate that treatment with the immunotherapy increases the time until the tumor recurs or increases overall survival when given in combination with the current standard of care therapy (chemotherapy or chemotherapy and radiation therapy) for this disease.
Return to the Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trial homepage