Novel combination immunotherapy to fight pancreatic cancer

A novel combination immunotherapy for solid tumours

The University of Antwerp has developed a novel combination immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer and other solid tumours. This combination consists of an immune priming CD40 agonist and the immune activating cytokine IL-15. We are looking for pharmaceutical companies with these compounds in their portfolio to enable a first-in-human clinical trial. 

Situation before 

Pancreatic cancer is till today the deadliest cancer worldwide with a 5-year survival rate of barely 7%, and this with a rising incidence. Because of its high grade of resistance to virtually every therapy and a notoriously immunosuppressive tumour microenvironment, which also renders the highly promising immune checkpoint inhibitors ineffective, there is a high unmet medical need for new treatment options for these patients. Additionally, pancreatic cancer is characterized by a dense stromal shield that also needs to be tackled before therapies will be more effective. Developing treatment schedules which tackle both the stromal shield and the immunosuppressive tumour itself are necessary to achieve a breakthrough in this cancer. 


We investigated the potential of a novel combination immunotherapy consisting of an immune priming CD40 agonist and the immune activating cytokine IL-15. CD40 agonists activate the immune system, induce production of immune cell-attracting chemokines and possess anti-stromal properties in pancreatic cancer while IL-15 stimulated NK cells can kill both pancreatic tumours cells and pancreatic cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). We discovered that when both compounds are combined, they invigorate each other resulting in profound anti-tumour responses and significantly prolonged survival in two different mouse models. In-depth research revealed that this combination of immunotherapeutic agents resulted in increased numbers of both NK cells and cytotoxic T cells and a reduction of regulatory T cells in the tumour. Finally, we confirmed the effect in other solid tumour types like mesothelioma and melanoma. 

Partners we search for

We are looking for partnerships with pharmaceutical companies which have either one or both compounds in their portfolio to enable a first-in-human early phase clinical trial with this novel combination immunotherapy strategy in solid tumours. 

About the researchers - research group

The research activities of the Integrated Personalized and Precision Oncology Network (IPPON) are at the forefront of integrated personalized cancer medicine. For different cancers in urgent need for improved therapeutic outcomes, our joint mission is 1) to develop novel and more effective therapeutic strategies; 2) to improve the detection and understanding of mechanisms driving therapeutic resistance; and 3) to identify and validate biomarkers for early detection and personalized therapy. The strong interdisciplinary partnership between basic, translational and clinical researchers within IPPON enables us to tackle burning research questions and clinical unmet needs and leads us to meaningful advances in the highly innovative and rapidly changing field of personalized cancer medicine and to improved patient outcomes both in terms of survival and quality of life. 

More information

University of Antwerp

Valorisation Office

Middelheimlaan 1

2020 Antwerpen

Phone: +32 3 265 89 84