GRANTS. The Sjöberg Foundation recently decided to support two teams conducting cancer research at Sahlgrenska Academy with grants totaling SEK 9 million. A study that can pave the way for using immunotherapy as a treatment for pancreatic cancer received the largest grant.
Peter Naredi is the principal applicant for that project, which receives SEK 6 million from the Sjöberg Foundation. The translational project deals with improved diagnosis and treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer. Today most patients with advanced pancreatic cancer gain little or no benefit from medical cancer treatment. In the laboratory researchers hope to identify which therapy is most efficient killing the patient’s tumor, and then this knowledge will be transfered to patients. In case of recurrence, the treatment option can then be administered to the patient in clinical studies. The second aim of the project is identifying tumor markers in blood from people with premalignant or early stages of pancreatic cancer.
“In the clinic we collect blood samples and tumor tissue in conjunction with surgical removal of tumors,” Peter Naredi says. “We use the blood samples to identify tumor markers. With the tumor tissue, we create what is known as a PDX biobank with mice carrying pancreatic cancer. We conduct genetic analyses of cancer cells and cultivate the cells for tests of new pharmaceutical substances. In mice with pancreatic cancer from different patients, we test their ability to respond to immune-stimulating treatment. These experiments enable us to plan for clinical studies of targeted cancer treatments to patients experiencing a relapse of their cancer.”
An opening for immunotherapy
Great progress has been made strengthening the body’s immune system against cancer cells, and several effective immunotherapy treatments are now helping patients. Immunotherapy has been thought to rarely or never work in the case of pancreatic cancer, but the research team at Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital has results indicating that more effective immunotherapy can be identified for this form of cancer as well.
“We have preliminary data from our experimental attempts indicating that patients’ own T cells can be effective against pancreatic tumors if they are stimulated in the right way. Being able to continue these studies and then start early clinical studies is both important and exciting,” says Peter Naredi.
The first major funding
Conducting the project requires collaboration of a team of researchers, and Naredi emphasise that the Sjöberg Foundation grant means a great deal. The Department of Surgery also includes researchers Lisa Nilsson, Johan Bourghardt Fagman, Cecilia Engström and Caroline Vilhav, and those participating from the Department of Oncology include Changyan Chen, Daniel Giglio and Lars Ny.
“Systematically collecting pancreatic cancer tissue in surgery and then cultivating it in a PDX model requires a lot of resources and the contributions of many people,” Naredi says. “The experiments and analyses we conduct come at a high cost, and the pharmaceuticals we will use in the clinical studies are very expensive. The Sjöberg Foundation’s funding is the first major grant we have received, and it can finance part of the project.”
The project for which Svein Olav Bratlie is the principal applicant, receives SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation, and it also concerns pancreatic cancer. Based on an assessment in a multidisciplinary therapy conference, an estimated one out of three patients is a candidate for curative treatment. This often involves surgery to remove the tumors followed by supplementary chemotherapy. However, the surgery may result in complications that prevent patients from receiving the planned chemotherapy, and more than 15 to 20 percent of patients undergoing surgery suffer a recurrence within a year.
The project, Nordic Pancreatic Cancer Trial (NorPACT-1), is an international multicenter controlled clinical study. In the study researchers evaluate whether chemotherapy administered before surgery results in less patients with an early recurrence. Through random selection, patients will either receive chemotherapy and then surgery or surgery first.
“We believe that the strategy of administering chemotherapy before surgery results in more patients receiving the combination treatment and that preliminary treatment with chemotherapy eliminates possible micrometastases, which in itself would reduce the risk of early recurrence of the disease,” Bratlie says.
“In NorPACT-1 we study whether we are seeing a better survival rate if we administer chemotherapy before, instead of after, surgery. The generous grant from the Sjöberg Foundation will help us to implement the Swedish part of this important and sought-after study.”
Future customized treatment
This study also provides unique access to a patient base that makes it possible to study blood and tumor tissue.
“With the grant from the Sjöberg Foundation, we can now, through our established network and through translational research, obtain answers to questions about which factors in the tumor are affected by the administered chemotherapy. In experimental models and in cell culture, we can try to produce unique tumor expressions that can then lead us on the path towards an oncological treatment system tailored for the unique patient afflicted with cancer.”
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM CLAESSEN