WESTWOOD-On Wednesday, March 24, UCLA announced that researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have been awarded two research grants totaling $6 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the most challenging cancers to treat,” said Dr. Caius Radu, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The lack of effective treatments suggests there is an inadequate understanding of the biologic complexity of the disease and the mechanisms behind its resistance to therapies that work in treating other types of cancers.”

The two grant-supported projects aim to untangle certain complexities and to identify potential new immunotherapeutic approaches. The first grant project will focus on mutations to the KRAS gene while the second grant will focus on interferon signaling in pancreatic cancer.

“Immunotherapy has revolutionized the way we treat a number of malignancies, but to date, its impact in pancreatic cancer has been disappointing,” said Donahue, who is also the surgical director of the UCLA Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Diseases. “Conventional immune checkpoint inhibitors approved for use in melanoma, lung cancer and other solid tumors show little or no benefit for the vast majority of pancreatic cancer patients, indicating that additional priming of the immune system will be absolutely necessary to overcome the intrinsic resistance of pancreatic tumors to immunotherapy.”