A new drug has been discovered that has ‘potentially very promising’ results for pancreatic cancer, scientists say. 

Pancreatic cancer affects around one in 71 people in the UK and only 20% live a year after diagnosis.

This is due to the cancer usually being diagnosed only after it has been spread because of its vague symptoms, such as weight loss and abdominal pain.

Mitochondrial staining (red) and nuclear staining (blue) of abnormal pancreatic ducts from a mouse model of human pancreatic ductal carcinoma. Mitochondrial shape changes occur throughout the progression of pancreatic cancer and the machinery that regulates the dynamics of mitochondria may be a promising new therapeutic target in the fight against this disease. David Kashatus. National Cancer Institute / Univ. of Virginia Cancer Center
A new drug has been discovered that has ‘potentially very promising’ results for pancreatic cancer, scientists say (Picture: Getty)

But a study carried out on mice with the disease showed that the animals could be cured if given specific medication that uses their immune cells to attack tumours.

Study author Professor Nick Lemoine, from Barts Cancer Institute, told the Evening Standard: ‘We have achieved what appears to be cures in the animal models, but this still remains early days. So far, all the signals look really positive.

‘The news is that there is a potentially very promising therapy.’


The process involves scientists taking immune cells, known as white blood cells, from mice and engineering them so they multiply before re-infusing them into animals.

Human pancreas showing tumor, computer artwork.
Pancreatic cancer affects around one in 71 people in the UK and only 20% live a year after diagnosis (Picture: Getty)

A virus is also put into the mice to makes the cancer send out signals so the immune cells notice it.

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Researchers hope the new treatment could be trialled on human sufferers by 2020.

Actors Alan Rickman and Patrick Swayze, as well as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, all lost their battles with the disease.

Discussing the results, study author Professor Marco Falasca, from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘This is a remarkable result.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during a special event on September 9, 2009 in San Francisco, California. Jobs, 56, passed away October 5, 2011 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976 and is credited, along with Steve Wozniak, with marketing the world's first personal computer in addition to the popular iPod, iPhone and iPad. SAN FRANCISCO - FILE: (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Apple CEO Steve Jobs died from pancreatic cancer (Picture: Getty Images)
Pancreatic cancer drug that could have saved Alan Rickman, Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs Warner Bros
British actor Alan Rickman, seen here as Professor Snape in Harry Potter, also died from pancreatic cancer (Picture: Warner Bros)

‘The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available.’

Leanne Reynolds, Head of Research at PCUK said: ‘For people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer there are very limited treatment options due to the complex nature of the disease. Surgery is the only treatment which could save lives but only around 10% of people with pancreatic cancer will be able to have it.”

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‘We urgently need a new approach to treating pancreatic cancer which is why we’re delighted to be funding this ground-breaking new research into immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is exciting because it is showing positive results in other cancers.


‘We are incredibly grateful for all our supporters, who have helped us fund Professor Nick Lemoine and his team to hopefully develop this much-needed new treatment for pancreatic cancer.’

The study comes after research suggested a supplement from cannabis could prolong the life of pancreatic cancer patients.

Mice with the condition were found to have lived longer when given the marijuana compound cannabidiol (CBD) alongside a common chemotherapy drug, according to a recent study.