Scientists are on the cusp of the ‘biggest ever’ breakthrough in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
UK researchers have developed a two-in-one treatment that could dramatically improve survival and even cure the disease, which is one of the deadliest cancers.
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have barely improved in the last 50 years and it has the worst prognosis of any common cancer.
In tests, mice given the new therapy – a combination of two treatments already used in hospitals – lived up to 40 per cent longer.
The researchers, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, say that it is potentially the biggest-ever breakthrough in the treatment of the disease and, if human trials are successful, it could be in widespread use within just five years.
UK researchers have developed a two-in-one treatment that could dramatically improve survival and even cure the disease, which is one of the deadliest cancers (File image)
Pancreatic cancer tumours have a thick outer layer which stops the drug in its tracks. Pictured: Alan Rickman, who died of the cancer
One of the treatments is immunotherapy, whereby a drug fires up the immune system to fight the cancer.
The drug is a checkpoint inhibitor, which means it blocks proteins that stop the immune system from attacking cancer cells. It has had stunning results against some types of cancer.
But pancreatic cancer tumours have a thick outer layer which stops the drug in its tracks.
The second treatment, known as high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), involves blasting the tumour with pulses of sound waves.
This creates tiny bubbles in the cells, which bounce around with such force that they puncture holes in the protective barrier – allowing the immunotherapy drug to get to work.
Mice with pancreatic tumours were given the combination treatment in tests.
They lived 25 per cent longer than those given just HIFU and 35 per cent longer than those only given the drug, according to the research published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. They also lived 40 per cent longer than those not treated at all.
More than half of the 10,500 Britons diagnosed with it each year die within three months – and only a quarter live longer than a year. Pictured: Apple founder Steve Jobs died from pancreatic cancer aged 56
Researcher Dr Petros Mouratidis said that, in human terms, this would mean several extra months of life. Importantly, the mice had only a single treatment. Given as a course, the two-in-one therapy could even be a cure.
He expects the treatment to work late in the disease. This is crucial because most cases of pancreatic cancer aren’t diagnosed until it has spread around the body. Trials could start within two years and, if successful, the treatment could be in widespread use just three years later.
Dr Chris MacDonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: ‘Further research is needed, but the potential of this combination is exciting and it underlines the importance of testing new, innovative approaches.
‘More treatment options are desperately needed if we’re to transform survival for future patients and their loved ones.’
The disease is Britain’s fifth biggest cancer killer, claiming 9,400 lives a year.
More than half of the 10,500 Britons diagnosed with it each year die within three months – and only a quarter live longer than a year. The disease caused the deaths of actors Patrick Swayze, Alan Rickman and John Hurt, and Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The daughter of a patient who died just seven months after a diagnosis said the new two-pronged treatment ‘could be the answer to pancreatic cancer’.
Retired library assistant Josephine Morris, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was given chemotherapy but it was unsuccessful.
Josephine, 73, was soon bedbound and too weak to have visitors. She died in April 2020.
Her daughter Marie Morris, a 45-year-old scientist, said: ‘She’d always been full of energy and had lots of friends… To see her life become one room was awful.’