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Glasgow scientists develop “powerful weapon” against pancreatic cancer

6 June 2016

An experimental drug has shown real promise in helping the immune system attack pancreatic cancer.

A new study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, discovered that a protein called CXCR2 helps guard the tumour, controlling how the immune system responds to pancreatic cancer.

In its early stages, pancreatic cancer evades the immune system but later hijacks it to aid its progression.

The Cancer Research UK researchers, from the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, in collaboration with scientists from the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, showed that the drug blocks the CXCR2 protein and stops the tumour spreading. Tests on mice, in which the experimental drug was used alongside other drugs that boost the immune system, showed that T-cells – primed to attack the cancer cells – flooded into the tumour and improved the survival of the mice.

Dr Jennifer Morton, lead researcher at the Beatson Institute said: “One of the most striking effects of blocking CXCR2 was the rush of T-cells into the tumour. This influx may be responsible for the improved success of gemcitabine and also made the tumours more sensitive to immunotherapy. Future approaches to using immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer suggest that using a CXCR2 blocking drug may be most effective to prime the tumour.” 

Professor Peter Johnson, CRUK’s chief clinician, said: “Pancreatic cancer has proven hard to treat with Immunotherapy, because it is often shielded by cells that fend off the immune system. This study suggests that we could overcome this by using immunotherapies with drugs that target the CXCR2 protein, letting the immune cells in to attack the cancer.  This might unleash a powerful weapon against this deadly disease where we are desperately in need of new treatments.” 

Maggie Blanks, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund said: “This is extremely interesting research and we hope that this reaches human clinical trials.  Immunotherapy is gaining momentum in the fight against pancreatic cancer, and the results of our own funded research in this area are further highlighting its potential as a treatment approach.”

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