Both studies are scheduled for presentation at the international Digestive Disease Week meeting this week in San Diego.
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, more than 37,000 men and women will die of pancreatic cancer in 2012.
Treatment obstacles are significant, given that tumor growth often festers under the radar, leaving most patients with a late-stage diagnosis when treatment options are of limited value.
Collectively, the study authors paint a grim bottom line. At best, only 5 percent of cases are curable. Without surgery, survival is about four to six months, while only 0.4 percent to 5 percent of patients make it to the five-year mark. Even with surgery, 70 percent of patients ultimately relapse and die.
And although encouraging, both of the new studies share an important caveat: Each involved just a small group of patients.
"Our work so far involved just 70 patients," said Dr. Jeffrey Hardacre, lead author of the vaccine study.
"Although now we already have under way a larger trial involving 700 patients at 50 cancer centers," added Hardacre, a surgical oncologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and an associate professor at Case Western. "And the results of that trial, which will probably be available in a couple of years, will provide a definitive yes or no as to whether this therapy will improve survival."
"But already," he continued, "we have seen that if you compare the patients from our study to patients treated in the past with the same type of standard therapies but without the vaccine, our patients had notable improvement in terms of survival."
Hardacre said standard treatment typically affords disease-free survival of roughly 11 months. By comparison, add in the Algenpantucel-L vaccine to surgery and chemo prolonged survival among his patients to the 14-plus month mark.
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