Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers of all. A new mRNA vaccine could prevent tumors from returning after surgery.

Provided by Deutsche Welle
Provided by Deutsche Welle© Science Photo Library/imago images

Nine out of ten people do not survive pancreatic cancer, and the survival rate has not improved for almost 60 years. There are hardly any effective treatment options. That's why every advance in therapy is a revolution. And that is exactly what is happening now.

Researchers in the US treated 16 pancreatic cancer patients with a personalized mRNA vaccine after they had their tumors surgically removed. By the end of the 18-month trial period, half of the patients had not relapsed. For a cancer that usually returns within a few months of surgery, that's a huge success.

In the world of medical science, superlatives are few and far between. In this case, however, pancreatic cancer experts are more than a little excited: Niels Halama, a tumor immunologist at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, described the latest development as "fantastic" and "unexpected" news. Thomas Seufferlein, a gastroenterologist from Ulm, declared it a decisive breakthrough with a "completely new approach". His colleague Alexander Kleger called it a "huge step" that will revolutionize the field.

With only 16 patients, the study, published in the journal Nature, is small. However, it provides the first evidence of the successful use of mRNA technology for one of the deadliest and most difficult-to-treat forms of cancer. It's also a decisive breakthrough in the years-long effort to develop cancer vaccines tailored to the tumors of individual patients.