Timely detection of the second-most deadly form of cancer

Test for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Timely detection of the second-most deadly form of cancer

“Once the pancreatic cancer produces symptoms as it reaches the later stages, it is usually no longer operable. There is no medicinal cure and the patient usually dies within a few months”, says Ulrika Axelsson, PhD.

She is coordinating a research project that can reveal the cancer at an early stage though a simple blood test.

Pancreatic cancer is a rare form of cancer; only about two per cent of the population are affected. However, because it does not produce any symptoms in its early stages and, therefore, is not diagnosed in time, the mortality rate is very high.

“If nothing is done, by 2030, this type of cancer will be the one that claims the second-most lives. The five-year survival rate is currently well below 10 per cent”, says Ulrika Axelsson.

Allows screening of risk groups

Within the scope of the Swelife-funded project, the research team has validated a biomarker signature for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

“The signature is composed of 25–30 different markers. Because we use an entire panel of markers, we can achieve a high level of accuracy. We have shown a 96 per cent sensitivity and specificity in stages 1 and 2, when the cancer is still treatable. And the method only requires a blood sample, so it can be used to screen known risk groups, such as people for whom this type of cancer runs in the family”, says Ulrika Axelsson.

No competitors

The project, in which the analysis is based on the heredity criterion, has now been turned over to the team’s industrial partner, Immunovia, which developed the patented IMMRay technology that measures all of the markers at once. Prospective studies have started at several medical centres in the United States. Currently, there is no competition.

“There is nothing like it on the market. Researchers are looking at other methods for early detection of pancreatic cancer, but no one is close to achieving what we have.”

Continued development of the method

The team at Lund University continues its work alongside the clinical studies. Through Swelife, the team recently applied for continued funding to develop the approach for more risk groups.

“One of the major risk groups consists of people who are diagnosed with diabetes after the age of 50”, says Ulrika Axelsson.

She highlights Swelife’s role so far in the project – and not only in terms of financing:

“We’ve received a lot of input from Swelife. They make significant contributions to increase contact between academia and industry, and make it easier for both to find collaboration opportunities and then reach out and be of use.”

Updated: 4 September 2017

Text: Jörgen Olsson