The national Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) granted its most competitive award, for $2 million, to David C. Linehan, M.D., to support a large, multicenter clinical trial testing an immunotherapy in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Linehan is director of clinical operations at the Wilmot Cancer Institute and chair of Surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He recently published data in The Lancet Oncology demonstrating that an experimental immune-stimulating drug (a pill) developed by Pfizer Inc. known as PF-04136309, plus a three-drug chemotherapy regimen, stopped or slowed tumor growth in the majority of 47 patients with locally advanced pancreas cancer who participated in a phase 1b trial. The PANCAN grant will fund a larger, randomized, phase 2 study, to further test the drug in patients whose disease has spread and whose life expectancy is six to 12 months.
Linehan investigates the environment around cancer cells, known as the “tumor microenvironment.” When pancreatic cancer develops, a protein recruits cells to the tumor microenvironment and acts to protect cancer cells from being destroyed by the body’s own healthy immune system. The experimental new drug blocks the signals of this protein, and galvanizes the immune system so that it can attack cancer.
Linehan is working with co-principal investigator Brian Wolpin, M.D., M.P.H., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They have just begun to enroll patients in the study.
PANCAN’s goal is to double survival of pancreatic cancer by 2020, by investing in trailblazing scientists and the most promising research projects in the nation. In 2016, the organization awarded more than $7 million in competitive grants. Linehan’s award was the only grant from PANCAN’s Research Acceleration Network, which is designed to support studies that will quickly benefit patients.