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Therapeutic Vaccine Could Fight Pancreatic Cancer
  • Posted January 9, 2024

Therapeutic Vaccine Could Fight Pancreatic Cancer

Patients with the most common form of pancreatic cancer could benefit from an experimental therapeutic vaccine, a small new clinical trial shows.

The vaccine, called ELI-002 for now, is targeted to what are known as KRAS-mutated solid tumors. Over 90% of pancreatic tumors have a mutation in the KRAS gene that could give rise to malignancy.

“It's early, but we saw some promising results that this vaccine may help many of these patients avoid relapse, which could increase survival,” according to study lead investigator Dr. Shubham Pant.

Pant is associate professor of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The new trial was funded by the drug's maker, Elicio Therapeutics, and was published Jan. 9 in Nature Medicine.

Pancreatic cancer has long been dubbed a "silent killer," because it's often only detected when it has reached an advanced stage.

In the United States, about 64,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease annually, and more than 55,500 will die from the illness, according to the American Cancer Society.

Surgery is often a first line of attack against pancreatic cancer, but tumors can return.

The new trial involved 25 patients averaging 61 years of age with either pancreatic or colon cancers. All had undergone surgeries to remove the tumor and seven had also received radiation therapy.

“Patients who have undergone surgery for pancreatic cancer are still at risk for relapse of the disease, even after they finish chemotherapy," Pant noted in an M.D. Anderson news release.

Patients received up to 10 doses of the ELI-002 vaccine.

ELI-002 targets the patients' lymph nodes, seeking to destroy the mutant DNA that can give rise to new tumors. The vaccine trains the immune system's T-cells to recognize and eliminate these KRAS mutations, the Texas team explained.

The vaccine seemed to have the desired effect on the immune system: Eighty-four percent of all patients displayed the hoped-for T-cell response, Pant's group said, and that rose to 100% among those who got all 10 doses.

T-cell responses were mirrored in reduced biomarkers that pointed to the presence of tumors and tumor-linked DNA. Those changes correlated to what Pant's group estimated to be an 86% reduction in tumor recurrence and death.

All of that is great news, Pant said, because, "when these patients do relapse, the disease is not curable, so this is certainly an area of unmet need.”

Side effects such as fatigue (24% of patients), injection site reactions (16%) and muscle aches (12%) did occur, but no side effects were bad enough to warrant cutting back of doses.

ELI-002 "showed a favorable safety profile, which is exciting," Pant said.

One advantage of ELI-002 is that it does not have to be formulated to the specifics of each cancer patient, the researchers noted.

A Phase 2 trial is expected to begin later this year, and the vaccine in that trial will be targeted to even more KRAS mutations, the team said.

More information

Find out more about pancreatic cancer at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

SOURCE: University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, news release, Jan. 9, 2024

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