Immunotherapy trial could offer hope to pancreatic cancer patients

Monday, 13 November, 2023

Immunotherapy trial could offer hope to pancreatic cancer patients

This Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month (1–30 November), the GI Cancer Institute is calling for donors to back the launch of a potentially life-changing clinical trial in Australia.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in Australia, with just one in 10 (12%)1 patients surviving five years after their initial diagnosis. Patients diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC) have an even worse survival rate of less than 12 months, even if they receive optimal chemotherapy.

The five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer have only increased by 8% over the past three decades and PDAC (one of the 10 most common cancer types) is projected to be the second most common cause of cancer death by 20302.

Originating from Cambridge University, the PemOla clinical trial2 aims to provide eligible pancreatic cancer patients with access to a combined immunotherapy treatment that potentially increases their chance of surviving beyond five years.

Dr Daniel Croagh, Lead Chair of PemOla in Australia, said PemOla is a combination of two novel drugs — an immunotherapy drug and a PARP inhibitor — which, when combined, synergise and enhance the impacts of one another.

With 80% of pancreatic cancer patients ineligible for surgery, and the 20% that are eligible having an 80% recurrence rate, clinical trials like that of PemOla can provide further treatment options for patients who have exhausted all available options, Croagh added.

“Patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer also have a poor prognosis of just six to 12 months, so there isn’t a lot of time to do clinical trials,” he said.

“Only 5% of metastatic pancreatic cancer patients are suitable for immunotherapy, but for that small group this treatment can be life-changing and assist us in developing further treatments down the track. I’ve been involved with pancreatic cancer patients who have responded positively to immunotherapy and we’d love to see more patients access this type of treatment.

“In order to advance treatments for patients, we need to get a better understanding of the cancer, which a clinical trial like PemOla can give us.”

Professor Lorraine Chantrill, GI Cancer Institute Chair, emphasised that clinical trials are not only vital for research, but give patients access to new and emerging therapies.

“Pancreatic cancer unfortunately has a very poor prognosis, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work to improve the quality of life of those affected. Researchers have been working hard in the background on alternative treatments, but the PemOla trial would be instrumental to the progress, with receiving funding to implement the trial in Australia a vital next step.

“The widespread impacts of cancer affect not only those diagnosed, but their friends, family and social network. If the PemOla trial goes ahead and shows success in increasing the five-year survival rates of participants, this will give them more time with their loved ones while also giving other patients hope.”

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