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Innovative cancer vaccine could change the lives of thousands of pancreatic cancer patients

Experts at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre have been leading a project with researchers from across the UK to create an innovative cancer vaccine which can be used in conjunction with traditional treatments to help combat pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is responsible for over 9,000 deaths in the UK every year, with less than four per cent of patients surviving five years or more after diagnosis. The inability to recognise symptoms and the unique formation of the cancer tumour make it difficult to provide patients with the life-saving treatment they need.

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Professor Daniel Palmer, chair of medical oncology and one of the trial leads at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for the pancreatic cancer vaccine, commented: “The new cancer vaccine is a form of immunotherapy which will be used after initial surgery to remove the tumour in the pancreas. It will work to manipulate the body’s immune system to recognise microscopic cancer cells, meaning a patient is able to fight any remaining cells before the cancer forms again in any other parts of the body.”

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital have just recruited the UK’s first patient to the trial, Mr Allan Helliar. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2013 and went on to have an operation to remove his tumour on Christmas Eve.

Talking about having the brand new vaccine alongside his treatment, Alan said: “I see it as a bit of an insurance policy to be honest. I want to give myself the best quality of life to enjoy with my wife Angela and our children and grandchildren. Also, I can’t thank everyone enough for the way I’ve been looked after so far and it’s fantastic to think I could be part of proving the vaccine is a potentially life-saving form of treatment.

“I’ve just had my first few doses of the vaccine and will continue to visit my consultant for the next six months but so far, everything is going brilliantly. It’s a really simple form of treatment and I’m in and out of the room in minutes.”

The aim of the trial is to prove that a combined treatment method adding the vaccine to standard chemotherapy should become a standard of care for those patients undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer and at risk of subsequent relapse.

Prof Palmer added: “Currently, patients with pancreatic cancer who are well enough to undergo surgery would typically follow the operation with a course of chemotherapy. However, due to the aggressive nature of this type of cancer, traces of the disease may still remain which form secondary tumours later down the line, an issue researchers are hoping the vaccine will combat.”

Immunotherapy is becoming increasingly popular for cancer treatment and aims to train the immune system to specifically attack cancer cells and strengthen the immune system's response to the disease. It can be administered in three forms, with a simple vaccine being the most common as it means the body can spark an instant immune response to certain cancers.

Maggie Blanks, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, commented: “As an organisation dedicated to progressing research to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer, we are extremely pleased that a potential new therapy has reached the clinical trial stage. Immunotherapy is an exciting area of research in the field of pancreatic cancer and we look forward to hearing about the results.”

Prof Palmer continued: “It’s always an exciting time when a drug comes to the clinical trial stage as it means we could be one step closer to combatting certain types of cancer.

“Any patients who feel they may be suitable to take part in the trial can chat to their consultant for further advice.”

In 2013, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre also celebrated ten years as the host of the Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Research Network, which has helped increase the number of local people being recruited to take part in international cancer research from four to 23 per cent since 2002.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is working collaboratively with other research partners from across the region on over 120 clinical trials to help develop new and innovative ways to treat various types of cancer.

The pancreatic cancer vaccine trial is currently taking place at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre on the Wirral, in a number of Norwegian cancer centres and at The Christie, based in Manchester.

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