Pancreatic cancer drug with no obvious side effects offers new hope

7 Sep 2016

A new drug being used in the treatment of pancreatic cancer is being considered a groundbreaking development, as it is effectively treating the condition without causing adverse side effects.

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most lethal forms of cancer, with organisations like the American Cancer Society finding that the typical five-year survival rate is only 7pc.

However, new research into developing treatments for this form of cancer by the University of London (UL) has seen the discovery of a drug that could be a turning point for many diagnosed with the condition.

According to The Guardian, the UL team’s new drug – dubbed IMM-101 – was used as a potential method of immunotherapy on a number of patients and it was found that their immune systems’ response far exceeded previous tests.

What makes the drug stand out from previous attempts is that, based on the responses of the 110 patients treated with the drug, there appeared to be none of the side effects typically seen with immunotherapy drugs.

“That’s never been seen before,” said Prof Angus Dalgleish, who led the research. “You always add toxicity and misery in my experience with each additional thing you put in.”

By adding IMM-101 to the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, it was found to improve the lifespan of those with metastatic cancer where it had spread from the pancreas to other parts of the body.

However, the drug was found to have no benefit for patients whose pancreatic cancer had only spread locally.

A strategic bombing campaign against cancerous cells

Like a phoenix from the flames, IMM-101 restarts the switched-off immune system so it can then recognise the tumour and begin working to stop it in its tracks.

This is much like a strategic bombing campaign on the pancreatic cancer, whereas previous drugs operated a scorched earth policy that restarted the immune system but also encouraged it to attack healthy tissue.

“In my melanoma patients, in particular, patients have shown greatly increased survival rates and enjoy a much better quality of life. In some patients I’ve actually seen the cancer disappearing altogether,” Prof Dalgleish added.

With the team’s research now published in the British Journal of Cancer, the next step for the drug will be to begin testing on a larger group of metastatic pancreatic cancer patients.

Pancreas x-ray image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic