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Targeted and immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer

This section covers the following topics:

Targeted therapies

Tageted therapies are designed to attack or kill cancer cells, while sparing normal cells as much as possible. These therapies are often designed to target abnormal proteins, receptors or genes that are found in high quantities in cancer cells or the surrounding tissue.  

PARP inhibitors 

PARP inhibitors work by blocking a protein used by cells to repair damaged . They were initially developed to treat cancers in people with an inherited gene mutation or mutation. For people with pancreatic cancer, the Lynparza () has been approved as in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer whose cancer has stabilized after at least four months of chemotherapy.  Approximately 5-8% of patients with pancreatic cancers will have a mutation in or related genes.

Research is ongoing to learn if PARP inhibitors are also affective for treating cancer in other situations, including:  

  • people with an  in a different gene that repairs damage (for example: ).
  • people who do not have an inherited gene mutation, but their tumor tested positive for an acquired mutation in a gene that repairs damage.
  • in combination with or other agents.

Other targeted therapies

  • Tarceva (erlotinib) is approved in combination with the chemotherapy gemcitabine as therapy for locally advanced, unresectable or pancreatic cancer.  
  • Vitrakvi (larotrectinib) is approved for treatment of pancreatic cancer that is or cannot be removed with surgery and has worsened with other treatments. It targets a specific genetic change called an NTRK fusion. This type of genetic change is found in a range of cancers, including pancreatic cancer.
  • Afinitor (everolimus) is a type of known as an mTOR inhibitor that is approved for treating people with advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Sutent is a that is approved to treat patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors that cannot be removed by surgery or that have metastasized.

Immunotherapies 

Immunotherapies are cancer treatments that hlep the body’s immune system detect and attack cancer cells. There are several different categories of immunotherapies. 

  • Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is known as an immune checkpoint inhibitor. Keytruda is approved for treatment of patients with cancer with a known as microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (). Although this is not common in pancreatic cancer, it is often seen in people with a gene mutation who develop cancer. 

Table of targeted and immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer

Name of drug Cancer Indication Type of agent
Lynparza
()
pancreatic cancer maintenance therapy for patients whose disease has not progressed on at least 16 weeks of platinum-based chemotherapy  in or
Tarceva (erlotinib) Locally advanced, unresectable or pancreatic cancer therapy used in combination with gemcitabine No required EGFR inhibitor
Afinitor
(everolimus) 
Progressive pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumors (PNET)  Treatment of neuroendocrine tumors of pancreatic origin (PNET) that have progressed No required MTOR inhibitor (type of kinase inhibitor)
Sutent
(sunitinib malate)
Unresectable, locally advanced or pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumors (PNET) For treatment of progressive, well-differentiated pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNET) No required Multi-target kinase inhibitor
Keytruda (pembrolizumab) or unresectable For treatment of that have progressed after treatment and for which there are no other treatment options MSI-H ( High) or  ( Immune checkpoint inhibitor
Keytruda (pembrolizumab) or unresectable

For the treatment of that have progressed following prior treatment and for which there are no satisfactory alternative treatment options

High (TMB-H) Immune checkpoint inhibitor
Vitrakvi (larotrectinib) solid tumors For treatment in solid tumors where surgical resection is likely to result in severe , and  for which there are no satisfactory alternative treatments or the cancer progressed following treatment NTRK fusion Kinase inhibitor
Last updated January 23, 2022

Get Support
Get Support

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

updated: 08/23/2022

Paying For Care
Paying For Care

Paying for testing

Insurance companies are required to cover the costs for cancer treatment. Health plans may vary on the amount of out-of-pocket costs and coverage for specific doctors, facilities, tests or treatments. Your doctor's office and treating hospital should disclose how much your treatment may cost you and work with you on a plan to cover the cost of your care.

Medicare will cover the cost for genetic testing and testing for people who meet certain criteria. Medicare coverage varies based on where you live. Visit this site to find and contact your regional Medicare provider for more information about coverage. The Medicaid website has a link to state Medicaid programs, which list specific eligibility for each state.

If you need information about finding an insurance plan, watch our video: Choosing Wisely: How to Pick Insurance Plans.Visit our Health Insurance Appeals page for additional information on insurance appeals. 

Some laboratories have assistance programs that help cover the cost for tumor testing: 

Organizations that offer co-pay assistance:

Other resources:

  • The American Cancer Society provides information and resources on covering the cost of cancer care. Public assistance, such as Medicaid may be available if you are ineligible for other programs. 
  • Triage Cancer offers tools and resources to help individuals cope with the financial aspects of a cancer diagnosis.

updated: 05/20/2023

Paying For Care
Paying For Care

Paying for cancer treatment

The majority of public and private health insurance plans are required to cover cancer diagnosis and treatment; copays, coinsurance and deductibles often apply. Patient costs and coverage for specific doctors, facilities or treatments may vary based on your health plan. Visit our section on Insurance and Paying for Care: Treatment  for more information, links to sample appeal letters and other resources. 

If you need information about finding an insurance plan, watch our video: Choosing Wisely: How to Pick Insurance Plans.

Some pharmaceutical companies have assistance programs that help cover the cost for their medications: 

Organizations that offer co-pay assistance:

Other resources:

  • The American Cancer Society provides information and resources on covering the cost of cancer care. Public assistance, such as Medicaid may be available if you are ineligible for other programs. 
  • Needy Meds: Assistance programs to help patients with cost of medications and other healthcare.
  • Triage Cancer offers tools and resources to help individuals cope with the financial aspects of a cancer diagnosis.

updated: 02/10/2023

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