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Parker-backed cancer scientists shine a light on an emerging pathway in pancreatic cancer

A couple of high-profile cancer researchers at MD Anderson backed by the Parker Institute have been exploring an experimental pathway that they believe shows some real potential in treating pancreatic cancer. And the news could buoy developers beavering away at clinical development in this arena of immunotherapy.

Padmanee Sharma along with her longtime collaborator, husband and Nobel laureate Jim Allison approached the issue by comparing pancreatic cancer tumors against melanoma, where PD-1/L1 and CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitors have showed some of their greatest successes. Pancreatic cancer, though, has a small 5-year survival rate, demonstrating its resistance to the new checkpoint class of drugs now out on the market.

Sharma and Allison’s team noted a significantly different profile for each cancer, with a much higher level of stroma in pancreatic cancer tumors that could be interfering with existing checkpoints. The stroma — supportive cells — is layered into pancreatic cancer.

“In melanoma, you have a large area of malignant cells surrounded by a thin layer of stroma,” noted Sharma. “With pancreatic cancer, it’s more like cancer cells, stroma, cancer cells, stroma ― blended.”

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