A new drug “wakes up” the immune system to attack cancer and extends the lives of people with metastatic pancreatic cancer and has no side-effects.The drug, IMM-101, is considered groundbreaking because pancreatic cancer kills within a few months.
Analysis What is immunotherapy?
New immunotherapy drug IMM-101 have no side-effects and the patients who were given felt better than those who were on standard chemotherapy, said Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s, University of London, the lieder of this research . This research involved 110 people:18% of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer are alive after one year and 4% after five years, so new treatments for the disease are badly needed.
“To me it’s really exciting,” said Dalgleish. “This is the first time we have got an immunotherapy that is a really good candidate to help control pancreatic cancer, which is one of the biggest killing diseases. Its incidence nearly matches its mortality. It is absolutely staggering.”
The drug worked on the immune system without any toxic effects. “That’s never been seen before,” he said. “You always add toxicity and misery in my experience with each additional thing you put in.”
Adding IMM-101 to the standard chemotherapy drug patients receive, improved the lifespan of those whose cancer was metastatic and would be expected to die quickly.
The results are published in the British Journal of Cancer. Most of the patients – 85% – had metastatic disease. Those who were just given the standard chemotherapy drug survived for a median of 4.4 months, and with the IMM-101 immunotherapy drug added survived for seven months. Others lived for more than a year and one nearly three years.
IMM-101 re-awakens the immune system enabling it to recognize and target the tumor so that the chemotherapy drug can work.
“It’s rather like depth-charging the immune system which has been sent to sleep,” said Dalgleish. It is very different in its mode of operation from the checkpoint inhibitors, which turn on the immune system in a way that causes it to kill cancer cells but often attack healthy tissue too. It is also given by a simple injection and is far cheaper than the checkpoint inhibitors.
Dalgleish says the immunotherapy drug could have uses in a wide variety of cancers. He carried out an earlier study using IMM-101, which contains a killed bacterium, on skin cancer patients. “In my melanoma patients in particular, patients have shown greatly increased survival rates and enjoy a much better quality of life. In some patients I’ve actually seen the cancer disappearing altogether,” he said.
The overall survival benefit, however – adding in all of the 110 patients – was not significant. Those who had IMM-101 survived a median of 6.7 months compared with 5.6 months for those just on chemotherapy.
Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, said:
-“While the results of this early trial didn’t show whether combining the immune-therapy drug with standard chemotherapy actually improved survival, they showed the combination treatment was safe and might help some patients. Further research with more patients is needed to develop therapies that can improve survival. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat and survival still remains low, which is why new treatments are urgently needed.”
Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and a consultant at the Royal Marsden, said:
-“This looks like a very interesting approach. It is different. It appears to be extremely well-tolerated and it has led to something that looks interesting in terms of survival but it hasn’t quite got there.”
We can only hope that they are on the right pat to find cure that will save everyone …