Funding for pancreatic cancer trial

Flinders University researchers have been awarded funding to run a clinical trial of a new pancreatic cancer treatment.

Dr Ganessan Kichenadasse, from the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, and Professor Nikolai Petrovsky have been awarded funding to develop and test a novel vaccine in treating one of the world’s deadliest cancers.

“Pancreatic cancer is currently one of the toughest cancers to treat, and in many cases at the time it is diagnosed it’s too late to surgically remove and cure the tumour,” says Professor Petrovsky, noting that pancreatic cancer currently has a survival rate of just 8%, and is set to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030.

“While new immunotherapies have shown promise in other cancers such as melanoma, most pancreatic cancers do not respond to such therapies.”

Made possible by the charity Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, the grant funding will allow the team to complete an early phase clinical trial of their novel cancer vaccine in patients with late stage pancreatic cancer.

Dr Kichenadasse’s team was awarded $100,000 by the Foundation to pursue this cutting-edge pancreatic cancer research.

“We intend to find out whether our cancer vaccine can help make pancreatic cancer visible to the immune system, so that the approved immune therapy drugs can then unleash an immune attack against the cancer,” says Professor Petrovsky.

“The team has come up with multiple innovative approaches to the immune  treatment of cancers and on the back of these breakthroughs wish to setup a Cancer Immunotherapy Centre of Excellence within Flinders to fast-track these exciting cancer approaches.

“This grant from the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation will be a great stepping stone in this ambition and is timely recognition of the world class cancer research being undertaken at Flinders.”

The planned trial will test a new combination approach for pancreatic cancer, combining a personalised cancer vaccine (Radvax) with an already approved immunotherapy drug. The Radvax vaccine uses a patient’s own tumour tissue to make the vaccine to stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer.

Dr Kichenadasse’s grant is one of four awarded by the Foundation this year. It is the first to be awarded by the Foundation to a South Australian research team.

This research funding is much needed, with progress in pancreatic cancer treatment being hindered by the swift nature of the disease. Sufferers don’t typically experience early warning signs, meaning the cancer is harder to fight once identified.

More about the research

Immunotherapy is now a well-established standard treatment for different types of advanced cancers. However, pancreatic cancer responds poorly to such therapies. One of the main reasons pancreatic cancer responding poorly is the immune suppressive nature of the cancer cells, preventing immune cells from killing them.

The team in collaboration with Dr Chris Weir at the University of Sydney has developed a personalised cancer vaccine (called Radvax) made from the patient’s own tumour that is designed to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to kill their tumour cells. This Radvax vaccine has already shown great promise in treating cancers in dogs.

Dr Kichenadasse’s research team now aim to test this approach in an early phase clinical trial in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, where they will be assessing the effectiveness and safety of this novel approach.

The Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation is the only charity in Australia exclusively dedicated to Pancreatic Cancer. Their core mission is to break through 40 years of no progress by doubling the number of people who survive by 2020. They aim to achieve this through raising awareness and investing in ground-breaking medical research to improve treatment.

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