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New drug shows promising early results for pancreatic cancer patients

Posted by: Research 20 August 2019

A new pancreatic cancer drug shows improvement in patient survival in new early-stage clinical trial at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer CenterThe results were published earlier this month (9th August 2019) in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Chris Macdonald, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, writes about the significance of the results.

"Progression in drug development for pancreatic cancer doesn’t occur as fast as any of us would like so it’s heartening to see results of an early-stage clinical trial showing a much better than expected survival for people with pancreatic cancer, a disease that has had appalling survival statistics for decades.

Researchers at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center trialled a new drug (AZD1775), which essentially prevents cancer cells from resisting treatments. They found that the overall survival of patients treated with the drug in combination with a standard pancreatic cancer drug and radiotherapy was 22 months. This is impressive considering similar previous studies with just the standard drug and radiotherapy provide 12-14 months of overall survival.

Of course there are limitations to this study as it is at such an early stage with only a small cohort of 34 patients. This is a phase 1 trial and was only ever intended to test dosing and safety, hence why the cohort is so small and why there isn’t a control arm. Half of the patients had metastatic cancer and side effects that will need to be minimalised when they move into the next trial phase.

So you may ask ‘why then are you so enthusiastic about this trial?’ and my answer would be ‘because of the context’.

Pancreatic cancer survival has barely changed in more than 50 years. Currently, there are very few treatment options for pancreatic cancer and, sadly, the ones available aren’t as effective compared to treatments for other cancer types. This is one of the few times I have seen a drug in development that is being tested in lots of cancer types simultaneously, rather than trialling it in pancreatic cancer only once other cancer trials have failed.

Moreover, two patients improved so much that they were able to have surgery – the only known cure for pancreatic cancer. At present, only one in ten patients in the UK are able to have surgery, so any treatment that increases this rate has the potential to save lives.

Much more needs to be done and many years of clinical trials delivered but these results show that there may be hope for the future.

I really look forward to seeing how AZD1775 performs in future trials and I will remain, for now, cautiously optimistic."