Skip Content

Three-drug combination shows promise against pancreatic cancer

16 January 2018

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, have shown that a three-drug combination can improve survival of mice with pancreatic cancer by simultaneously targeting the cancer cells, as well as other harmful inflammatory cells, within the tumour.

One of the many difficult things about pancreatic cancer is that tumours are resistant to most treatments because of their cell composition and density. In fact more than 80 per cent of a pancreatic tumour is comprised of cells that are not malignant.

However, many of these non-cancerous cells, called tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs), still play a vital role in promoting cancer by preventing the immune system from attacking the cancer. In addition to TAMs, pancreatic tumours are also comprised of and surrounded by cells called tumour-associated neutrophils (TANs) that further block the immune system when pancreatic cancer is present.

Both TAMs and TANs are recruited from the bone marrow to help the cancer, and patients who have a high number of TAMs and TANs in their biopsy samples generally have a poorer prognosis.

The study, published in the latest issue of the medical journal Gut, targeted both TAM and TAN with a combination of experimental drugs that would reduce their numbers and allow the immune defences to fight the cancer, and also boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

The results showed that targeting TAM, TAN and the cancer cells in this three-pronged approach had better results than using any single therapy on its own. The research team went on to show similar results on samples of human pancreatic cancer.

The researchers, based at the University’s Wilmot Cancer Institute, believe that the study may help inform a more personalised approach to treating pancreatic cancer, using the information from the tumour biopsy - such as the numbers of cancer cells and non-cancerous inflammatory cells that affect the immune system – to plan the best treatment for each patient.

Surgical oncologist and lead author Dr David Linehan, said: “Our approach is based on evidence that this disease has particular characteristics involving both the tumour and the immune response and we believe that treatment must address all sides of the problem.”  

< Back