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Study: Personalized vaccines may help pancreatic cancer treatment


Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage when patients have few treatment options. Early study results showed that a pancreatic cancer vaccine delayed the return of cancer for nearly half of the participants. (Posted 8/29/23)

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Personalized vaccines may help pancreatic cancer treatment
Glossary on


Most relevant for: People with pancreatic cancer who have tumors that can be removed by surgery.
It may also be relevant for:

  • people newly diagnosed with cancer
  • people with pancreatic cancer

Relevance: Medium-High

Strength of Science: Medium-High

Research Timeline: Human Research

Relevance Rating Details

What is this study about?

A personalized vaccine as treatment for pancreatic cancer was tested in this study with a small group of participants. The vaccine was custom-made for patients based on the unique features of their cancer. It was given in addition to a drug that affects the immune system and standard chemotherapy,  Researchers focused on patients who had surgery for their pancreatic cancer and hoped to increase the time before the cancer returned while also improving patient survival.

Why is this study important?

Pancreatic cancer typically has a low survival rate and is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. Pancreatic cancer cases have been rising in the US and worldwide. With few effective treatments available, better therapies are needed.

One promising treatment approach is , which uses the body’s immune system response to target cancer cells. Vaccines can improve the immune system’s ability to find and kill cancer cells. However, standard drugs for pancreatic cancer has not been helpful  in studies to date.

Researchers wanted to see if they could create a vaccine (based on the relatively new processes also used with the COVID vaccines) that increases certain immune system cells known as CD8+ T cells in pancreatic cancer patients. This vaccine uses a substance called mRNA (messenger RNA) from the cancer to help stimulate the immune system. They hope that this vaccine will trigger a better immune response by increasing the number of  CD8+ T cells that can target and kill cancer cells.

Study findings

Sixteen study participants with pancreatic cancer had surgery to remove their tumors and were treated with the mRNA vaccine, an drug and chemotherapy.  

The vaccine improved the immune system response.

  • Half (8 of 16) of the people who received the vaccine had more CD8+ T cells after treatment than they did before the treatment. The researchers referred to these patients as “responders” because their immune systems responded to the vaccine by making more immune cells that could target their pancreatic cancer.  

The vaccine extended the time before the cancer returned.

  • Most responders had no return of their cancer at 18 months after treatment.
  • At the time this research was reported, some responders’ cancer had still not returned.
  • Among non-responders (participants whose immune cells did not increase after vaccination), cancer returned about 11 months after the end of their vaccine treatment.
  • The delay in cancer recurrence was most closely tied with the amount of the immune response rather than other factors, such as features of the patients themselves, chemotherapy drugs used or tumor size.

The immune response could last as long as 2 years.
Researchers assessed the number of CD8+ T cells in participants several times after treatment:

  • Responders had more CD8+ T cells for up to two years after treatment.
  • The CD8+ T cells were able to attack cancer cells in the pancreas and cancer cells that had spread to other parts of the body. In one patient, a liver occurred. When it was biopsied, It found  surrounded by many CD8+ T cells. Later, the disappeared on CT imaging.

Side effects associated with the vaccine were minimal.

  • No participants had a serious (grade 4 or 5) or life-threatening .
  • One person had a serious grade 3 fever and high blood pressure.

Most participants had low-grade side effects. The most common were chills and fever linked to the vaccine and itching linked to the drug.

What does this mean for me?

Although promising, this is an early research study involving only a few people. Vaccines and other immunotherapies to treat pancreatic cancer are currently only available through a clinical trial. The phase 2 clinical trial is enrolling participants for this drug. Larger research studies are needed to better understand the vaccine’s effectiveness and why some people respond and others do not. If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and you are interested in a vaccine for treatment, ask your doctor whether participating in a clinical trial is right for you. Some vaccine clinical trials for treating pancreatic cancer are included in this review under the tab marked “Research.”

In this small study, none of the participants tested positive for an , so it is unclear whether people with an that is linked to cancer would respond differently than other participants. Further research is needed to clarify this issue.


Rojas, L.A., Sethna, Z., Soares, K.C. et al. Personalized RNA neoantigen vaccines stimulate T cells in pancreatic cancer. Nature 618, 2023; 144–150.

Disclosure: FORCE receives funding from industry sponsors, including companies that manufacture cancer drugs, tests and devices. All XRAYS articles are written independently of any sponsor and are reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board prior to publication to assure scientific integrity.

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posted 8/2923

Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • Do I qualify for any pancreatic cancer vaccine clinical trials?
  • How do I get tumor testing to look for specific treatment options?
  • Should I consider having genetic testing for an ?
  • What side effects are associated with my cancer treatment(s)?

Open clinical trials
Open clinical trials

The following are treatment studies enrolling people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer:

The following are vaccine studies enrolling people with pancreatic cancer:

  • NCT05111353: Neoantigen Vaccines in Pancreatic Cancer in the Window Prior to Surgery. This study will look at the safety of an neoantigen vaccines in pancreatic cancer patients following chemotherapy. Participants will be placed in one of two groups. Group 1 will receive the vaccine following chemotherapy and surgery. Group 2 will receive the vaccine after  chemotherapy and before surgery.

Other clinical trials for people with pancreatic cancer can be found here.

Updated: 08/15/2023

Who covered this study?

Vaccine Slows Return of Pancreatic Cancer in Early Trial This article rates 4.0 out of 5 stars

New York Post

Vaccine for ‘silent killer’ pancreatic cancer shows promise: study This article rates 3.0 out of 5 stars


A Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer Treatment? This article rates 3.0 out of 5 stars

Scientific American

Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Small Initial Trial This article rates 2.5 out of 5 stars

How we rated the media

Expert Guidelines
Expert Guidelines

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines recommend the following for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer:

  • Receive treatment from a team of healthcare professionals that includes a variety of experts in cancer care, genetics, mental health, nutrition and management of side effects. These experts are more likely to be found at large cancer centers that have a lot of experience in treating pancreatic cancer.
  • Make sure you have had the following tests:
    • Genetic testing for an . Genetic test results may help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment. Genetic test results may also help your relatives understand their risk for cancer. 
    • Imaging tests to learn the of your cancer.  is needed to plan and monitor your treatment. These tests determine whether the tumor can be removed with surgery (it is resectable), if the cancer has spread to nearby organs or (locally advanced) or has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized).
    • Tumor testing (for people with locally advanced or pancreatic cancer). Tumor testing results can also be used in making treatment decisions and, or determine if you are eligible for clinical trials. 
  • Keep a copy of all test results (online patient portals are a great way to access test results). This will come in handy during a second opinion, if necessary. 
  • Discuss with your healthcare team whether they recommend chemotherapy before and/or after your surgery.

Updated: 11/13/2023

Peer Support
Peer Support

The following organizations offer peer support services for people with or at high risk for pancreatic cancer:

Updated: 08/23/2022

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