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Pancreatic cancer vaccine: What to know about early promising results

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A personalised mRNA vaccine for pancreatic cancer has produced promising results in a small initial trial involving people whose cancers were detected early enough to operate



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8 June 2022

Doctor preparing a vaccine: new mRNA vaccines for pancreatic cancer have shown promising results

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Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of cancers with few treatment options. Now an mRNA vaccine treatment tailored to each individual’s cancer, called autogene cevumeran, has produced promising results in a small initial trial.

What were the results?

In the trial, 16 people were given the vaccine around 9 weeks after having an operation to remove their tumours. In eight, the vaccine did not elicit an effective immune response and their cancers returned. But in the other eight the vaccine did elicit a good response and these eight remained cancer-free 18 months later. The results were announced by the developer of the vaccine, BioNTech, on 5 June.

Does this mean the vaccine could help up to half of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer?

Unfortunately not. Firstly, this is a very small initial trial. Larger and longer trials will be needed to confirm the result. Secondly, the trial only involved people whose cancers were detected early enough that they could undergo an operation to remove the tumour before the cancer spread to other parts of the body. Only around 10 per cent of people are diagnosed at this stage, says Chris Macdonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK. In other words, even if larger trials confirm these initial results, it remains to be seen if this vaccine can help people with more advanced pancreatic cancer – though that is of course the hope.

Why is pancreatic cancer diagnosed late?

The problem is that the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague, says Macdonald. By the time it is detected, 70 per cent of people are so ill that it is too late for any treatment.

How does the mRNA vaccine work?

When people’s tumours are removed, the DNA of the cancer cells is sequenced and compared to healthy cells from the same individuals. BioNTech looks for proteins that have mutated in the cancer cells and that therefore distinguish these cells from healthy cells. The company then creates mRNAs – a genetic recipe – coding for up to 20 of these proteins, which are injected into an individual. The aim is to get the immune system to target and destroy any cells producing these proteins. It’s the same principle as for the mRNA vaccines against covid-19.

Was the vaccine the only treatment given in the trial?

No. The participants were also given chemotherapy, as is standard after surgery, says Macdonald. In this trial they also received a drug called atezolizumab, which is a type of PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor. Some cancers tell the immune system not to attack them – PD-1 inhibitors block that signal.

Will those who responded to the vaccine remain cancer free?

Only longer follow-ups and larger trials will tell. If some cancer cells survived the combination treatment, those cells could evolve to resist the immune attack triggered by the vaccine. Many tumours initially respond to treatments but then evolve resistance for this reason. “You run the risk with every cancer type,” says Macdonald.

When will this vaccine become more widely available?

That depends on the decisions of BioNTech and regulatory authorities, so it is impossible to say. Because the survival rates for pancreatic cancer are so low, however, regulators should accelerate the approval process if larger trials are sucessful.

Is this the first mRNA vaccine against cancer?

No, far from it. Researchers have been using the mRNA approach to try to treat cancer since at least 2008. The results have been mixed, but the technology is improving and the success of the mRNA covid vaccines has given a big boost to the field. As yet, no mRNA-based cancer vaccine has been approved but many trials are currently underway or planned.

Are there other kinds of cancer vaccine besides mRNA ones?

Yes, lots of them. Many different approaches are being tested and a few cancer vaccines have already been approved. For instance, sipuleucel-T (sold under the brand name Provenge) is a prostate cancer vaccine created by exposing immune cells to a prostate-cancer-linked protein and then injecting those cells back into an individual’s body. There are also several vaccines that prevent cancer by limiting infections by the viruses that cause them, such as the HPV vaccines that are extremely effective at preventing cervical cancer.

What else could mRNA vaccine technology be used for?

An mRNA vaccine works by making our bodies make a small quantity of specific proteins. Many highly effective treatments, such as antibodies, are protein-based, but manufacturing proteins is slow and expensive. So if we can use mRNA technology to get our bodies to make large enough quantities of therapeutic proteins, not just vaccines, it could lead to better treatments for a huge range of diseases and disorders.

 

 

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Kevin Lankinen, Predators take down Islanders 4-1

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Kevin Lankinen made a career-high 48 saves and the Nashville Predators beat the New York Islanders 4-1 on Friday night for their seventh victory in nine games.

Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi scored and Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund added empty-net goals. The Predators have won nine straight games against the Islanders, the longest active streak against a single opponent. The Predators are 11-1-1 in their last 13 overall against the Islanders.

“Lanky knew what he was doing. We had great goaltending,’’ Forsberg said. “The reason we are happy is the play of our goaltender.”

Mathew Barzal scored for New York midway through the third period.

“That’s a good hockey team over there,’’ Barzal said of the Predators, who are 7-1-1 in their last nine games. “They are heavy and strong with good D. It could have gone either way.”

The Predators were coming off 4-3 comeback win at New Jersey on Thursday night in which they scored with nine seconds left in the third period and won 33 seconds into overtime.

“We played two solid games against two very good teams,″ said Duchene, whose goal was the 300th of his career. “The Islanders threw the kitchen sink at us in the third.”

Forsberg opened the scoring on a power play with 5:42 left in the first with his eighth goal of the season. Duchene and Josi assisted.

Josi, the Predators captain, made it 2-0 on a power play at 8:22 of the second. Forsberg and Duchene assisted.

Josi has 10 points in his last seven games against the Islanders, including four assists in Nashville’s 5-4 home Nov. 17. The Swiss-born defenseman is four points from tying David Legwand for most points (566) in Predators history.

Lankinen made nine saves in the first, 18 in the second and 21 more in the third. The 27-year-old Finnish goaltender played the previous two seasons with Chicago.

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“Kevin was great. He was really good down the stretch,’’ Predators coach John Hynes said. “It’s great to see him get rewarded.”

Islanders Lane Lambert said he was pleased with the Islanders’ offense which generated a season-high 49 shots. But Lankinen was there to stop all but one as the Islanders lost for only the fourth time in 12 home games.

“We did a good job at times,’’ Lambert said. “It was just one of those nights.”

Predators defenseman Ryan McDonagh left the game nine minutes into the third period after he was struck in the nose on a shot by Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov. McDonagh, the former Rangers captain, wears a face shield.

The Islanders scratched forward Kyle Palmieri, who was placed on injured reserve on Thursday retroactive to Nov. 21 … The Islanders also scratched forwards Cal Clutterbuck (day-to-day with an undisclosed injury) Ross Johnston and Hudson Fasching, who was recalled from AHL Bridgeport on Thursday along with Cole Bardreau who skated in Clutterbuck’s spot on a line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin … The Predators scratched forwards Eeli Tolvanen and Cody Glass.

Islanders: Host Chicago on Sunday night,

Predators: At Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

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WHO estimates 90% of world have some resistance to Covid | Coronavirus

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The World Health Organization estimates that 90% of the world population now has some resistance to Covid-19, but warned that a troubling new variant could still emerge.

Gaps in vigilance were leaving the door open for a new virus variant to appear and overtake the globally dominant Omicron, the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

“WHO estimates that at least 90% of the world’s population now has some level of immunity to Sars-CoV-2, due to prior infection or vaccination,” said Tedros, referring to the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease.

“We are much closer to being able to say that the emergency phase of the pandemic is over – but we’re not there yet,” he told reporters.

“Gaps in surveillance, testing, sequencing and vaccination are continuing to create the perfect conditions for a new variant of concern to emerge that could cause significant mortality.”

Last weekend marked one year since the organisation announced Omicron as a new variant of concern in the Covid-19 pandemic, Tedros noted.

It has since swept round the world, proving significantly more transmissible than its predecessor, Delta.

Last week, the latest real-world study of updated Covid boosters showed that new vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are likely to provide better protection compared with the original shots.

The study of more than 360,000 people indicated that the boosters offer increased protection against new variants in people who have previously received up to four doses of the older vaccine.

Since their introduction to the US in September, the vaccine boosters, which contain both original and Omicron BA.4/5 coronavirus strain, provided greater benefit to younger adults aged 18-49 years that those in the older age group.

Tedros said there were now more than 500 highly transmissible Omicron sub-lineages circulating – all able to get around built-up immunity more easily, even if they tended to be less severe than previous variants.

Around the world, 6.6 million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, from nearly 640 million registered cases. But the UN health agency says this will be a massive undercount and unreflective of the true toll.

Tedros said more than 8,500 people were recorded as having lost their lives to Covid last week, “which is not acceptable three years into the pandemic, when we have so many tools to prevent infections and save lives”.

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Kevin Durant, Nets beat Raptors to tally fourth win in a row

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Make it four in a row and seven of their last nine.

The Nets are one of the hottest teams in basketball and moved two games above .500 with a 114-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors in front of a sellout 17,732 fans at Barclays Center on Friday night.

They led by as many as 36 points before letting the Raptors creep back into the game late in the fourth quarter.

After digging a 2-6 hole to start the season, the Nets (13-11) have pulled a complete 180. They are inching closer toward contender status, though they still have tremendous ground to cover separating themselves from the cream of the NBA crop.

And it both looks and feels different when the Nets aren’t leaning too heavily on Kevin Durant — or Kyrie Irving, as they did for unending stretches last season.

Durant’s minutes have become a point of contention in Brooklyn, as they were last year. He entered Friday’s matchup as the league’s leader in minutes, points and field goals. At age 34 and in year 15, the Nets star is averaging 37 minutes per game for the second consecutive season.

“We’ve had to play Kevin more minutes than we’ve wanted to,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said ahead of tipoff. “That’s just kind of where we are. He understands that.”

It hits different, though, when Durant has help, and it reflects on the scoreboard.

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Sharpshooter Joe Harris got hot early, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. After breaking out of his shooting slump to hit four out of six threes in Wednesday’s win over the Washington Wizards, Harris, who is starting in place of the injured Ben Simmons (calf strain), hit another five threes for 17 points against the Raptors on Friday.

Royce O’Neale hit a trio of timely threes, and Kyrie Irving shouldered a large chunk of the scoring load, scoring 27 points on 17 shot attempts. Veteran forward TJ Warren, in his Nets debut after missing two-plus seasons with consecutive stress fractures in his left foot, scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench.

And Nic Claxton added 15 points and nine rebounds, sealing the game with a putback dunk, then offensive rebound and finish that extended the Nets’ lead back to 16.

He forced Raptors coach Nick Nurse to call his second to last timeout with four minutes left in the fourth.

It was Durant’s lightest workload of the season. He still played 38 minutes but they were low impact. He only took 10 shots and finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Nets built a lead as large as 36 and watched the Raptors whittle the deficit down to as little as seven in the final minute of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a pretty finish but nothing has come easy for the Nets this season.

They have a chance to make it five in a row on Sunday, though they’ll have to go through last year’s Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics to get there.

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