Pancreatic cancer researchers given funding boost to beat the deadly disease

New hope for finding treatment for pancreatic cancer as Cambridge joins US partners to form a research ‘dream team’.

A cross-disciplinary team of top cancer researchers will receive 8 million dollars over 3 years to transform pancreatic cancer into a treatable disease.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. The survival rate is dismally low as it has often reached an advanced stage before it is diagnosed and there is currently no effective treatment.

The ‘dream team’ of talented cancer researchers has been pulled together from 8 top cancer centres across the US and Cambridge as the only partner outside the US. Scientists with different areas of expertise, such as immunotherapy, genetics, informatics, biostatistics, clinical trials, cancer biology and pathology, will work together for the first time in an effort to tackle the deadly disease from all angles.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is resistant to most forms of therapy and is one of the most deadly types of cancer. The environment that surrounds cancer cells is referred to as the tumour microenvironment, and studies in mice and humans have shown that the PDA tumour microenvironment has unique characteristics that are thought to limit the efficacy of treatment. By understanding the obstacles that prevent the tumour from responding to treatments, it should be possible to develop therapeutic agents to eliminate these barriers, resulting in the effective treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Professor Doug Fearon and Professor Duncan Jodrell, based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, are leading the project for the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge pancreatic cancer team has a strong reputation for translating laboratory breakthroughs into the clinic. 

They are developing new immunotherapies - treatments that stimulate the body’s own immune system to attack pancreatic cancer cells. They have already had some encouraging results from studies in mice using AMD3100 or Plerixafor to block the CXCR4 signalling pathway, breaking down the protective barrier around the tumour cells. The new funds will enable them to assess the potential of this treatment in early phase clinical trials on pancreatic cancer patients at Addenbrooke’s later this year. 

Professor Jodrell said, 'I am delighted that Stand Up 2 Cancer and The Lustgarten Foundation are providing the support that we need to translate our research discoveries into a clinical trial, which will be led from the Cambridge Cancer Centre.'

The welcome funding boost was announced in San Diego during the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, which is attended by around 18,000 cancer researchers, clinicians, and patient advocates from all over the world.

The funding for this project will be provided jointly by Stand Up 2 Cancer, The Lustgarten Foundation, the Fox Family Cancer Research Funding Trust and the American Association for Cancer Research.

8 Apr 2014