In late April 2016, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced the opportunity for supplemental funding to stimulate research in the area of the pancreatic cancer microenvironment. The funding will support projects focused on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) – the most common – and deadliest– form of pancreatic cancer, making up 95 percent of all cases. This opportunity supports research priorities identified as a result of our efforts leading to the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act passage in 2012. It was subsequently signed into law by President Obama in January 2013.

The law mandated that the NCI develop scientific frameworks, similar to strategic plans, for pancreatic and lung cancers and provides the NCI director with the authority to develop frameworks for other deadly cancers.

Four key initiatives were identified within the PDAC framework: understanding the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer, early detection methods using biomarkers, immunotherapy and new treatment approaches that interfere with RAS oncogene-dependent signaling pathways.

The new funding opportunity focuses on evaluating the promise of immunotherapy for the treatment of PDAC.

“We are grateful to the NCI for this new grant announcement which is a step toward addressing the priorities that were identified as a result of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act,” said Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA, Chief Research Officer at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “This new grant announcement on immunology will help ensure that progress is being made against our country’s third leading cause of cancer-related death.”

Pancreatic tumors are surrounded and infiltrated by a dense, complex microenvironment that influences cancer cells’ survival, impacts drug delivery and includes cell types that help the cancer cells evade an immune attack.

This funding opportunity is meant to deepen our understanding of the interaction between tumors and the microenvironment, so that new immunotherapy strategies can be designed that account for the complexity of the tumor microenvironment.

Passage of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act was the culmination of five years of effort by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s passionate advocates and volunteers—who sent 76,000 emails, made 14,000 calls to Congress and participated in 1,500 meetings. Since our founding in 1999, NCI funding for pancreatic cancer has increased 500 percent.

Since the enactment of the statute in 2013, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has continued to advocate to ensure that NCI has the funds needed to fully leverage the priorities outlined in the scientific framework and secured a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health in 2015, the largest single increase in over a decade.  This work will continue at the National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day this June.