JUN 01, 2017 7:08 AM PDT

Drug Could Give Months Back to Pancreatic Cancer Patients

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Pancreatic cancer is a ruthless killer - about three-quarters of patients don’t make it past the one-year mark from diagnosis. But a new drug could give some precious months back to patients fighting this disease.

In a Phase 2 randomized clinical trial led by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, an experimental drug called PEGPH20 seemed to make pancreatic cancer more vulnerable to chemotherapy treatments.

Image: Mayo Foundation

The drug targets molecules known as hyaluronic acid (HA), which have a high affinity for water. In pancreatic cancer, HA molecules enable the tumor to build up high internal pressure, which forces nearby blood vessels to shut down. This mechanism prevents cancer-fighting drugs to reach the heart of the tumor, contributing to the disease’s dismal prognosis.

But HA molecules are broken down in presence of PEGPH20, which researchers hypothesized would make pancreatic tumors vulnerable to chemotherapy. Indeed, mouse studies with PEGPH20 supported this hypothesis, as mice treated with the drug had tumor shrinkage and increased survival time.

The current trial involved 234 late-stage pancreatic cancer patients who were randomized to receive chemotherapy in conjunction with PEGPH20 or chemotherapy alone. When researchers analyzed survival time in this large group, they reported minor increases of several weeks of progression-free survival.

"If this was all the potential that this strategy represented, I wouldn't pursue this [research further]," said Sunil Hingorani, the lead investigator of the trial. "That's not enough for me."

But remarkable results happened when the team separated cancers based on HA levels. Indeed, patients whose tumors were high in HA responded more to PEGPH20. This resulted in more significant tumor shrinkage, and an increase in four months of progression-free survival. And four months is quite impressive considering the speed at which pancreatic cancer kills.

The results are promising enough to warrant proceeding to Phase 3. "We still haven't fully proven anything yet, strictly speaking, but I think [this strategy] is very rational," said Hingorani. "Let me put it this way: I think it would be irresponsible not to finish the global Phase 3 trial as the most rigorous test of this hypothesis. I think we're obligated now to answer the question."

Because the drug seems to work best in tumors high in HA, only patients whose tumors meet this criteria will be eligible for Phase 3 testing. If results of Phase 3 are as promising, the drug could be up for FDA approval in the future.

"Patients get one shot on goal, if that, with this cancer," he said. "No cancer is more daunting than pancreas cancer."

Additional source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center via EurekAlert!

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 12, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Lung Cancer is Different in Non-Smokers
JUL 12, 2020
Lung Cancer is Different in Non-Smokers
Not everyone that gets lung cancer is a current or former smoker, and researchers have now found that lung cancer is dif ...
JUL 26, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Medicinal Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells
JUL 26, 2020
Medicinal Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells
Researchers at the University of Newcastle have found that a modified version of medicinal cannabis can kill and inhibit ...
AUG 17, 2020
Cancer
Are Cancer Exosomes a Good Source of Biomarkers?
AUG 17, 2020
Are Cancer Exosomes a Good Source of Biomarkers?
One of cancer’s most aggravating qualities is its ability to control the microenvironment around it. This control ...
AUG 28, 2020
Cancer
Using CRISPR-Cas12a to Repair Hereditary Cancers in the Lab
AUG 28, 2020
Using CRISPR-Cas12a to Repair Hereditary Cancers in the Lab
Genome repair is one of the big-ticket research areas for the future of medicine. CRISPR-Cas9 systems can edit the genom ...
SEP 04, 2020
Cancer
Attacking Cancer's Metabolism: A New Take on Fermented Wheat Germ Extract
SEP 04, 2020
Attacking Cancer's Metabolism: A New Take on Fermented Wheat Germ Extract
One of the hallmarks of evolution is the oxidative phosphorylation metabolic system. Not only does it produce energy in ...
SEP 11, 2020
Cancer
Targeting Senescence in the Peripheral Nervous System to Fight Toxicity
SEP 11, 2020
Targeting Senescence in the Peripheral Nervous System to Fight Toxicity
Chemotherapy is a life-saving discovery for cancer patients. One of its biggest drawbacks is the toxicity that comes wit ...
Loading Comments...