At present, no pancreatic cancer vaccine is available to the public. However, emerging research in recent years looks promising and could help doctors improve pancreatic cancer survival rates.
Pancreatic cancer is a difficult cancer to treat and has a low survival rate. Most people with pancreatic cancer have a particularly dangerous type called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).
Many types of cancer treatments are not effective against PDAC. In part, this is because they may not produce the types of cells, known as neoantigens, that immunotherapy treatments can target.
However, vaccines are currently in development that could help improve the immune system’s ability to fight pancreatic cancer.
Several vaccines for pancreatic cancer are in development, and clinical studies are ongoing to examine the safety and effectiveness of each.
However, these vaccines would not work in the same way as a traditional vaccine, where otherwise healthy people would receive them to prevent the onset of a disease or condition. Instead, they are therapeutic vaccines that aim to treat existing cancers or prevent previously treated cancers from returning.
According to a
- Cell-based vaccines: These vaccines use cells that trigger an immune response to target antigens on cancer cells. Antigens signal to the immune system that a particular cell type is harmful.
- Microorganism-based vaccines: These vaccines use genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, or yeasts to attack cancer cells.
- Exosome-based vaccines: Cancer cells release cells called exosomes around the body that may promote cancers spreading to other areas. This type of vaccine uses those cells to improve immune responses.
- Peptide-based vaccines: These vaccines activate the T cells — the immune system’s main defensive cells — using antigens.
- DNA-based vaccines: These provide genetic information for cells to copy. This may help the cells boost activity that prevents tumors.
- Protein-based vaccines: These vaccines may trigger the immune system using proteins from tumor tissue.
Several types of vaccines have shown particular promise in studies.
Personalized mRNA vaccines
Each participant then received a personalized mRNA vaccine based on their tumors’ specific neoantigens
After a course of around nine boosters along with chemotherapy and an immunotherapy drug called atezolizumab, researchers found strong immune responses in eight participants. Pancreatic cancer did not return within 18 months for those with a particularly high T cell count. Those who did not have a strong immune response saw cancer come back within a year.
The ELI-002 vaccine
ELI-002 aims to increase the immune response, training the immune system to deliver more T cells to attack the cancer cells that may remain after treatment. T cells target threats in the immune system.
After the shots in the study, most participants’ T cells showed a significant response, especially in those who got the highest doses. This response showed links to a decrease in signs of cancer activity, removal of cancer DNA, and an 86% drop in the risk of cancer coming back or leading to death.
The vaccines are still going through clinical trials and are not yet publicly available.
Each trial has strict guidelines on who is eligible. This usually depends on the type and stage of a person’s pancreatic cancer, which treatments they have had before, and their medical history. Clinical trials often require an individual to have good function in certain organs, such as their liver, kidneys, and heart, so their body can handle the new treatment.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) has a service called Know Your Tumor. It contains personalized healthcare information that helps connect people with the pancreatic vaccine trials for which they are eligible.
Clinical trials may be recruiting participants through ClinicalTrials.gov. Taking part in a clinical trial might connect people with pancreatic cancer to treatment they might not otherwise be able to access, which may slow their disease’s progression. Their participation can also advance the field of understanding to help others with pancreatic cancer.
A PanCAN case manager can also help connect people with suitable trials, based on diagnosis information, treatment history, and ideal travel distance. Trials can be expensive, can cause unknown side effects, and may not work. Speak to a cancer care team about the suitability of certain trials before considering one.
Research into a pancreatic cancer vaccine is promising. However, a vaccine will not be available until trials prove it is safe and effective.
This can take
A person cannot always prevent pancreatic cancer, as some risk factors are out of their control. These
- avoiding or quitting smoking, as the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates cigarette smoking may have links to 25% of pancreatic cancers
- maintaining a moderate body weight, as the ACS believes obesity may increase pancreatic cancer risk by 20%
- moderating alcohol intake to reduce the risk of chronic pancreatitis, a long-term pancreatic disease that may increase pancreatic cancer risk
- exercising regularly to prevent type 2 diabetes
- avoiding certain chemicals in metalwork and dry cleaning, which have links to cancer
Pancreatic cancer is often fatal, but promising research is underway that could provide methods for slowing the disease and preventing recurrence. These include vaccines, such as the personalized mRNA and ELI-002 vaccines, as well as others that use different proteins, antigens, DNA, and microorganisms to compel the immune system to action.
These are not yet publicly available. However, people who meet eligibility criteria can choose to get involved in a clinical trial, which might provide access to these treatments. It could be years before they become accessible to the public.