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Funding boost for Australian-first trial of a potential new treatment for pancreatic cancer

Photo: Pancreatic cancer trial offers some hope
Australian researchers will lead a world-first trial of a potential new treatment for pancreatic cancer, offering a glimmer of hope to patients and their families.

Pancreatic cancer is too often fatal and claimed the lives of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and actor Patrick Swayze.

In Australia, around 3300 people are diagnosed with the disease every year. Of those less than 10 per cent will survive longer than five years or longer.

Of the 90 per cent of patients to succumb to pancreatic cancer, the majority will die within the first year due to the fact it is caught late, says Professor John Rasko at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

"The worst part of the story is that pancreatic cancer has seen little progress compared to a number of other cancers over the last 20 years. So not only is it a devastating diagnosis but we haven't really developed a lot of promising new treatments for pancreatic cancer despite considerable efforts over many, many years," said Professor Rasko.
But there is reason to hope, he says.

Professor Rasko will lead an international consortium of experts to trial CAR T-cell immunotherapy on pancreatic cancer.

"This will be the first form of potent, personalised immunotherapy in Australia and one of the first in the world, certainly to address pancreatic cancer," he said.

The clinical haematologist and pathologist hopes patients with pancreatic cancer will be "buoyed" by the news, however, he warned clinical trials on humans are not expected until the end of 2019.

The therapy involves taking a patient's own immune cells and reprogramming them to attack the cancer cells. Once infused back into the patient's body the CAR T-cells are designed to seek out pancreatic cancer cells and multiply to destroy them using the body's own immune system.

The breakthrough immunotherapy has already shown success in patients with an advanced form of blood cancer, known as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Trials have resulted in disease remission for about 80 per cent of patients after a single injection of the reprogrammed cells.

Professor Rasko's project was awarded a $2 million funding grant from Cancer Council NSW on Tuesday night and will be the first in Australia to test this treatment approach on a solid tumour.

"Two million dollars over five years from Cancer Council NSW is an extraordinary commitment and a recognition of the hope that this technology might offer," said Professor Rasko.


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