A reclassification of pancreatic cancer provides opportunities for new treatment development, according to a study published in Nature.1

Researchers at the University of Glasgow, co-led by Professor Andrew Biankin and a team at the University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, have identified 4 key subtypes of pancreatic cancer, each with unique clinical characteristics and differential survival outcomes.2 The 4 types are squamous, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic, and aberrantly differentiated endocrine eXocrine (ADEX).1-2

“The 4 subtypes that we have identified represent a reclassification of the disease and as such should provide a basis to offer new insights into personalised therapeutic options for individual patients and a launch pad to investigate new treatments,” said Professor Andrew Biankin, of the University of Glasgow.2

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Dr Peter Bailey, the study’s first author, described the current treatment landscape for pancreatic cancer as “hitting the disease with a mallet with your eye closed” because it is not targeted or selective.

“The work that we are doing is about trying to change the clinical landscape for, not only pancreatic cancer, but all cancers by providing a very thorough analysis of the molecular pathology of specific cancers, leading to a more personalised or precise approach to treatment based on the underlying genetic defects that drive a cancer that may be vulnerable to specific drugs,” he said.

Researchers categorized the groups by examining key aspects of pancreatic tumors including mutational profile, gene expression, and epigenetic changes. These were based on data sets from the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death in Western societies and is expected to become the second-leading cause within a decade.  Patients with pancreatic cancer typically have a poor prognosis, with a median survival measured in months and a 5-year survival rate of less than 5%.

The identification of the immunogenic subtype of pancreatic cancer was a notable finding of the study, because it could mean that specific mechanisms could be targeted using immune modulators.

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Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said “Identifying different types of pancreatic cancer and revealing the disease’s complexity is an important step towards finding more effective treatments. This will help to ensure patients are given the therapies that are most likely to help. Improving survival for people with pancreatic cancer is one of our top priorities, and we urgently need more research like this if we’re going to beat this disease in the future.” 


  1. Bailey P, Chang DK, Nones K, et al. Genomic analyses identify molecular subtypes of pancreatic cancer. Nature. 2016;531(7592):47-52.
  2. Identification of four pancreatic cancer subtypes offers new treatment insight [news release]. Glasgow, Scotland: University of Glasgow; February 25, 2016. http://www.gla.ac.uk/news/headline_446663_en.html. Accessed March 28, 2016.