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UW Cancer Researchers Testing Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer

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UW Carbone Cancer Center

UW Carbone Cancer Center physician Dr. Cho and colleaguePancreatic cancer, one of the most devastating of forms of a dreadful disease, claims nearly 38,000 American lives each year. While there has been some success in combating other cancers, options for prostate cancer patients remain limited. Currently, the median survival rate for patients with resected pancreatic cancer is approximately 20 months. The likelihood of five-year survival is estimated at only 20 percent.


Clifford Cho, MD, a UW Health surgical oncologist and an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, is seeking additional treatments for pancreatic cancer patients. Dr. Cho, with his colleagues Sharon Weber, MD, director of surgical oncology and professor at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Emily Winslow, MD, a UW Health surgical oncologist and an assistant professor at  UW School of Medicine and Public Health, are participating in an intriguing clinical trial through the UW Carbone Cancer Center.


The Phase III randomized trial is designed to test the efficacy of a proposed pancreatic cancer vaccine. The researchers here, and at select sites throughout the country, are hoping a new drug will help train the body's immune system to recognize and begin fighting pancreatic cancer cells as they develop.


According to Dr. Cho, "There are very few treatment choices for pancreatic cancer patients. There's been nothing new to offer patients in years. We need better alternatives."

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Dr. Cho, the study's principal investigator, says the team believes it can recruit the body's own immune system to fight the cancer cells by using the same basic strategy behind other vaccines. Previous work suggests that by introducing bits of "dead" cancer cells complexed to non-human proteins that are quickly recognized as foreign by the immune system, the body can be trained to become hyper-vigilant against pancreatic cancer cells. As a result, the immune system may be reoriented to recognize and eliminate pancreatic cancer cells that recur in the body.

"The immune system is really good at recognizing cells from a different animal and quickly eliminates such cells through a process called ‘hyperacute rejection'," says Dr. Cho. "This immunotherapeutic strategy is trying to take advantage of hyperacute rejection to enhance the immunological rejection of cancer cells."

A previous Phase II clinical trial looked at how post-surgical patients responded to the vaccine. Participants received a 12-shot series of vaccinations while they received chemotherapy. The results were promising and prompted the move to a Phase III study.


This Phase III study is a randomized trial that is available for patients with stage 1 or stage 2 non-metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas following surgical resection. Participants will either receive current standard of care treatment or standard of care treatment plus the vaccine.


For more information about the study, contact Dr. Cho at