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Novel Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer Under Study
Date:3/24/2011

ntial, the authors first focused on 21 patients diagnosed with advanced stage and surgically incurable pancreatic cancer. All were given gemcitabine (a standard chemotherapy drug) and the antibody designed to stimulate a cell receptor (CD40) that regulates immune system function.

The research team found that treatment was generally well-tolerated. And although all of the patients eventually relapsed, the treatment initially appeared to work, substantially shrinking some tumors while slowing down metabolic activity in most of them.

In turn, work with mice revealed the underlying process by which the antibody treatment unfolded: the resulting boost in CD40 triggered white blood cells called "macrophages" to attack the kind of tumor-surrounding tissue they normally set out to protect.

"It is something of a Trojan horse approach," Vonderheide explained. "The tumor is still calling in macrophages, but now we've used the CD40 receptor to re-educate those macrophages to attack -- not promote -- the tumor." (Treating the mice with gemcitabine in addition to the CD40 antibody produced results similar to the human trial.)

"Beyond our specific findings," he added, "we think these findings point to a new approach for drug development in cancer, one where we use state-of-the-art mouse models for preclinical trials to guide which trials we should do next in patients. It should be faster, cheaper and give us a head start in the clinical trials."

Dr. Bhoomi Mehrotra, section head of the medical oncology and stem cell transplantation program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., hailed the prospect of a new approach in pancreatic cancer treatment. Current treatments, he said, "leave a lot to be desired."

"Any new therapies that will prolong the time of disease control and improve survival without too many side effects would obviously be helpful in the further management of this very difficult disease," Mehrotra said. "And
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