In an early study conducted by the German company BioNTech — which partnered with Pfizer to develop the Covid shot — half of the patients involved remained cancer-free for 18 months after their tumors were removed and receiving the jabs.
The trial, led by Dr Vinod Balachandran at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, presented the encouraging results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago on Sunday.
The doctors noted that the results indicated that the vaccine could condition the body's immune system to kill off pancreatic cancer cells by boosting immune cells that pinpoint tumors.
Sixteen patients were involved in the trial, and each of them were given eight doses of the individualized vaccine created using the mRNA genetic code found in each of their tumors.
The patients also received their jabs after surgery to remove a tumor. Results highlighted that the jab produced a T cell response in eight out of the 16 patients who stayed cancer-free throughout the trial.
The remaining patients who didn't respond to the vaccine either saw their cancer reappear or died.
"Unlike some of the other immunotherapies, these mRNA vaccines do appear to have the ability to stimulate immune responses in pancreatic cancer patients," Balachandran said before adding that they are "very excited."
Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the US. And 90 per cent of patients die within two years of their diagnosis, BioNTech added.
Prof. Özlem Türeci, BioNTech co-founder and chief medical officer, said that they are trying to "break new ground in the treatment of such hard-to-treat tumors" and that the results "are encouraging."
Balachandran also said that the results should be good news for other cancer patients as well.
"Any ability to treat pancreatic cancer with a new therapy hopefully paves the way for us to now test [mRNA cancer vaccines] more broadly," he said.