Scientists have reported that a new vaccine designed to treat pancreatic cancer prevented the disease from returning in 50% of patients who received it.

In a small study published by Nature, scientists said they tested the vaccine on 16 patients in New York City, and half of the patients were still remaining cancer-free after 18 months — a success for the trial.

Scientists at the German firm BioNTech developed a vaccine that can be tailored to a pancreatic cancer patient’s unique genetic makeup, to train their immune system to destroy pancreatic cancer cells.

New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center took tumor samples from 16 patients and sent them to Germany. There, a team of scientists at BioNTech — the company that co-developed COVID-19 vaccines with Pfizer — analyzed the proteins in each sample’s cancer cells.

Like the COVID vaccines, these utilized messenger RNA to instruct a patient’s immune system to destroy the cancer cells. The key difference was each vaccine being tailor-made to each patient’s mRNA.

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously hard to detect and treat. It is widely known as a “silent disease” because symptoms, including abdominal pain and weight loss, often don’t arise until the cancer cells have spread to blood vessels and tissue, at which point treatment is difficult.

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