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Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center

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Immunotherapy research in pancreatic cancer given $1m boost

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Photo of Dr. Doug FearonDouglas Fearon, M.D. Immunotherapeutic approaches (training the patients’ immune system to fight off their tumors) that have worked in other cancer types have not been effective against pancreatic cancer. A team of researchers is hoping to change that, and a $1 million grant from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will help support the ambitious effort.

One of the reasons immunotherapy has not been effective in pancreatic cancer cases is that pancreatic cancer cells are able to avoid an immune attack by emitting signals to the cells of the immune system. One of these signals is via a secreted protein called CXCL12. CXCL12 is secreted from the cancer cells and then binds to a protein called CXCR4 on the surface of the immune cells, inhibiting the immune system from attacking the cancer cells.

In experiments conducted in mice, a drug blocking CXCL12 (AMD3100) sensitizes pancreatic tumors to immune attack, leading to rapid tumor destruction. Based on these findings, a research team led by Steven Leach, M.D., the David M. Rubenstein Chair and inaugural director of the Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Meyer Cancer Center member Douglas Fearon, M.D., the Walter B. Wriston Professor in Pancreatic Cancer Research at Weill Cornell Medical College, has obtained funding for their project, "Eliminating T cell barriers in pancreatic cancer patients."

They will initiate a clinical trial investigating the safety and effectiveness of AMD3100 in pancreatic cancer patients, and investigate new versions of AMD3100 that last longer, as well as drugs that target CXCR4 on the immune cells themselves. Plans are in place to test these new immune-targeting treatment strategies in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer and before surgery in patients with earlier stage disease.

The funding is part of a 2015 Celgene Corporation – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Research Acceleration Network Grant. 

Read the official announcement here