March 23, 2017 • 2 Min

Two Types of Immunotherapy for Surgically Removable Pancreatic Cancer

Microscope image of a cross section of circular pancreas cells with lighter centers, stained pink

Rafael Mondini; Flickr

Will a combination of a vaccine with an immunotherapy drug prevent further growth of pancreatic cancer in patients with tumors that can be surgically removed?

A clinical trial for people with early-stage pancreatic cancer looks at the effectiveness of a vaccine and chemotherapy combination, with or without an additional immunotherapy drug. This trial adds the experimental regimen to the standard chemotherapy and radiation that is usually given after surgery.

Blocking Signals that Mislead the Immune System

One of the ways cancer cells spread is by producing proteins that tell the T cells of the immune system not to attack the tumor. Nivolumab (brand name Opdivo) is an immune checkpoint blockade drug and works by blocking a negative regulator of T cell activation. In other words, it reactivates T cells to attack the tumor.

Combining Two Types of Immunotherapy

This trial looks at the effectiveness of the GVAX/cyclophosphamide combination with or without nivolumab. GVAX is a pancreas vaccine that stimulates the immune system to kill the tumor cells. Cyclophosphamide is a chemotherapy drug that interferes with DNA replication by blocking the growth of tumor cells and eventually killing them.  The drug, given at a low dose, targets cells that regulate the immune system function, in this case the ones that suppress immune function.

Participants in this trial must have tumors that can be surgically removed. One group of participants will receive GVAX and cyclophosphamide two weeks before surgery and 6-10 weeks after surgery. One month after the post-surgery vaccination, patients receive standard chemotherapy and radiation. The other group will follow the same treatment plan but with the addition of nivolumab to the vaccine/chemotherapy combination.

We encourage you to consult your physicians for clinical trials that may be right for you. The website provides more details about this trial as well as many others. You can visit the EmergingMed Trial Finder for a listing of all active pancreatic cancer clinical trials.

This drug combination is also being explored in another clinical trial. To learn more read “Comparing the Effectiveness of Vaccine Therapy With or Without Additional Immunotherapy.”

What new treatments and clinical trials are available to me?

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