A novel drug, IMM-101 has extended the lives of some people with metastatic pancreatic cancer and appears to have minimal side-effects.

Doctors describe IMM-101 as “waking up” the immune system to attack cancer. Patients who were given the new immunotherapy drug actually felt better than those who were on standard chemotherapy, said Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s, University of London, who led the research.

IMM-101 re-awakens the immune system that the cancer has effectively switched off. Pancreatic cancers have an outer shell of cells, which act like a shield. IMM-101 appears to activate the immune system, enabling it to identify then target the cancer so that the chemotherapy drug can work more effectively.

The results of a small clinical trial were recently published in the British Journal of Cancer. Most of the patients in the trial had metastatic disease. In the trial patients were treated with Gemzar (gemcitabine) or IMM-101 followed by Gemzar and compared.

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Those who were treated with Gemzar alone survived for a median of 4.4 months, but those who had the IMM-101 immunotherapy drug as well survived for seven months, and some lived for more than a year and one died after nearly three years. Similar benefit however was not seen in patients with locally advanced cancer.

While encouraging, these are very preliminary results and additional clinical trials will be required to confirm these initial observations.

Reference: Dalgleish A, Stebbing J, Adamson D, et al. Randomised, open-label, phase II study of gemcitabine with and without IMM-101 for advanced pancreatic cancer. British Journal of Cancer. (2016.)  115, 789–796. doi:10.1038/bjc.2016.271

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