An uptick in funding for pancreatic cancer research is finally giving scientists some hope that they'll be able to tackle this baffling and seemingly intractable disease. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths, but it is on track to be the second-leading killer by 2020, behind only lung cancer. [...] increased private funding and government grants to back some new promising developments in understanding and treating pancreatic cancer have given rise to optimism, say both researchers and patients. "The relationship between dollars spent on research and survival rate is direct," said Stu Rickerson, 65, a UCSF patient, former business executive and nine-year pancreatic cancer survivor. The researchers will share an $8 million grant over the next three years to help find ways to harness the body's immune system to attack the cancer. Key benefactors include Stand Up to Cancer, a charitable cancer funding project established by media, entertainment and philanthropic leaders, and the Lustgarten Foundation, the largest private foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research. Scientists also hope to find therapies that target KRAS, a protein molecule that is mutated in about 90 percent of people with pancreatic cancer and is considered key in the development of the disease. UCSF is also conducting an early-stage clinical trial with Sunnyvale biotechnology company Pharmacyclics to test a therapy designed to inhibit an enzyme that also plays a role in the growth of the disease. The money will come from private donations. Since starting its grant program in 2003, the group has awarded more than $22 million to scientists around the country. Rickerson, who lives in San Diego and travels to UCSF for care, said the goal of the pancreatic cancer dream team is to turn the disease into a condition that can be monitored and treated much like other chronic diseases.