Earlier this year the University of Glasgow made several discoveries which will not only assist doctors in creating treatment strategies for patients with pancreatic cancer, but also will allow pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs to battle this most lethal of cancers.
University of Glasgow scientists discovered four different subtypes of pancreatic cancer: squamous, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic, and aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine, or ADEX. Each of these subtypes has factors within them, which make differentiation between them relatively easy.
Previously pancreatic cancer was thought of as simply “one disease” with academic and scientific thinking focusing on the “one disease” concept. Think of it this way, breast cancer is not just “breast cancer” it has 4 distinct subtypes Luminal A, Luminal B, Triple negative/basal-like, HER2 type with treatments specific to each subtype.
With this discovery pancreatic cancer is not just “pancreatic cancer” but 4 distinct subtypes within the auspice of pancreatic cancer. The ability to recognize each of these 4 subtypes as individual disease areas benefits not only the study of each specific subtype, but also the development of drugs and treatment regimens specifically designed to target and exploit the weaknesses of each subtype. In short, each patient can receive the therapy most effective against their particular subtype of pancreatic cancer.
Of the 4 subtypes the one that is causing the most excitement is the Immunogenic Subtype. Scientists have documented particular mechanisms within the Immunogenic Subtype of Pancreatic Cancer that indicate that is may be react well to various immunotherapies either on the market or in trials. To review: Immunotherapy drugs work by disrupting the ability of cancer cells to disguise themselves or hide from the body’s immune system which means the body does not try to kill them and they proliferate. At the same time these drugs encourage the body’s immune system to rally and begin fighting these cancerous cells. The pharmaceutical industry has several drugs at the ready which may hold promise such as Keytruda which is manufactured by Merck, and Opdivo which is manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
The hope is that by identifying the 4 pancreatic cancer subtypes, the ability to prescribe the proper treatment for that type in terms of what would be most beneficial to each individual patient will result in greater survival rates.