Updates in pancreatic cancer research

The pancreas is a gland that is located behind the stomach and has an important role in the human body’s functions. It produces enzymes that aid in digestion and hormones that help in blood sugar level regulation. Unfortunately, when patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (being pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma the most common form), the disease is usually very advanced because in early stages of development, it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. Some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are the change in the color of the skin (yellowish appearance), pain in the abdomen and back, weight loss, and fatigue. For specialists to diagnose a patient with pancreatic cancer, they have to perform blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy. Risk factors that are believed to contribute to pancreatic cancer are smoking, having diabetes for a long time, chronic pancreatitis, as well as other genetic factors.

Pancreatic cancer is a disease that has a great area of opportunity because the treatments available work in a limited way and the probability of surviving is very poor. According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for one year is of 20% and for five years is as low as 7%. Some of the treatments that are currently offered are surgery, radiotherapy (either from the exterior of the body or internal radiotherapy directly put on the tumor or near its location), chemotherapy, and biologic therapy.

There are several pharmaceutical companies working in the research and development of new treatments to target and treat this disease. One example is Takara Bio Inc., which is currently conducting a phase I clinical trial to target pancreatic cancer using Canerpaturev (C-REV), which is a type of oncolytic virus. Oncolytic viruses target the cancer cells and start their replication inside the damaged cell, causing its death. Healthy cells remain unaffected. Rexahn pharmaceuticals recently showed preliminary results of a Phase 2a clinical trial using an oral treatment, RX-3117, in combination with Celgene’s Abraxane for patients with this disease. The mechanism of action of RX-3117 is such that it incorporates itself into cancer cells, once activated by the enzyme UCK2, and inside the cell it induces its death by inhibiting DNA and RNA synthesis.

GlaxoSmithKline has also one drug under research, GSK095, which has shown preclinical trial results that may be promising because the phase 1 clinical trial is about to start. It will use this drug in combination with Merck’s Keytruda®. GSK095 blocks the enzyme RIP1 (receptor-interacting serine/threonine-protein kinase 1), which regulates macrophages. This blockage showed that the activation of killer T cells was enhanced, therefore, targeting better the malignant cells.

Like these pharmaceutical companies, there are many others researching new treatment options for patients. As a clinical research site, we are actively looking for opportunities of having trials like these to help in the research process of the drugs so that ultimately the patients can have a greater hope for treatment and improving their quality of life.