New drug combination shows early potential for treating pancreatic cancer, according to MIT researchers who found the therapy can cancel pancreatic tumors in mice.

Cancer, which affects approximately 60,000 Americans each year, is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Pancreatic tumors often become resistant to certain chemotherapy drugs, but a team of researchers at MIT has now developed an immunotherapy strategy that can eliminate pancreatic tumors in mice.

The new therapy is a combination of three drugs that help strengthen the body’s immune defenses against tumors. The therapy is expected to enter clinical trials later this year.

“We don’t have a lot of good options for treating pancreatic cancer,” said William Freed-Pastor, senior postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “It is a clinically devastating disease.

“If this approach led to lasting responses in patients, it would have a significant impact on at least a subset of patients’ lives, but we need to see how it will actually work in trials,” added Freed-Pastor, who is also a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is the lead author of the new study.

The three drug combination is a CD40 agonist antibody, a PD-1 inhibitor and a TIGIT inhibitor. The researchers found that this combination resulted in a decrease in pancreatic tumors in about 50% of the animals that received this treatment.

In 25% of the mice, the tumors disappeared completely. In addition, the tumors did not grow back after stopping treatment.

“We were obviously very excited about it,” said Freed-Pastor.

In collaboration with the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, the MIT team looked for two pharmaceutical companies that have a PD-1 inhibitor, a TIGIT inhibitor, and a CD40 agonist antibody in development.

None of these drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration yet, but they have each reached Phase 2 clinical trials. A triple combination clinical trial is expected to begin later this year.

“This work uses highly sophisticated genetically engineered mouse models to study the details of immune suppression in pancreatic cancer, and the results indicated potential new therapies for this devastating disease,” said Tyler Jacks, senior author of the ‘article.

“We are working as quickly as possible to test these therapies in patients and are grateful to the Lustgarten Foundation and Stand Up to Cancer for their help in supporting the research,” he added.

Along with the clinical trial, the MIT team plans to analyze what types of pancreatic tumors might respond best to this combination of drugs. They’re also doing other animal studies to see if they can increase the effectiveness of the treatment beyond the 50% they saw in this study.

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