Pfizer’s experimental drug, CP- 870,893 slowed down pancreatic cancer significantly. The treatment tricks the immune system and shrinks pancreatic tumors by targeting the tissue around the cancer mass instead of the malignant cells.

The method was tested on lab mice and twenty-one human patients. The team, made up of laboratory scientists and clinical doctors, embarked on a novel and speedy research that takes results in humans back to the lab in order to do more tests in genetically engineered mice.

Four out of the twenty-one patients who were suffering from incurable pancreatic cancer had their tumors shrink after being administered the drug, CP- 870,893 alongside Gemzar chemotherapy. The combination of treatments has helped to alleviate the disease progression for an average of 5.6 months, as compared to just 2.3 months for those on chemotherapy alone. While 11 patients had their disease stabilized, all of the patients in the study eventually developed the cancer.

Quick facts about pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is by far one of the most deadly cancers and mostly happens by chance. Scientists are still doing research to understand what causes it to develop in the first place.

Treatment for pancreatic cancer includes surgery and chemotherapy. It kills about 37,000 people in America alone each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, Maryland. The American Cancer Society states that a mere 4 per cent of patients suffering from pancreatic cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed.

How does it work?

The Pfizer drug was intended to trigger immune system T-cells to attack the tumor, but after researchers biopsied tissue samples from patients receiving the treatment, they found CP-870,893 behaving differently. It spurred a large quantity of white blood cells (macrophages) to attack the cellular structures sustaining the cancer. Researchers are now finding out ways to increase macrophage response to shrink tumors.

Robert Vonderheide, a cancer professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center hopes that this approach may help in treating other types of solid tumors.

Positive results

The new approach has shown a lot of promise in the preliminary studies, increasing the overall survival rate of patients by about two months. Scientists from The University of Pennsylvania have also reported that the tumor did not grow for more than three months among these patients.

However, experts argue that there are some differences between human and mouse cancer cells and believe that more research is required.

Pfizer is also considering CP-870,893 as a potential treatment for melanoma.

Sources:
1) National Cancer Institute
2) American Cancer Society
3) Abramson Cancer Center