Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death across the globe. It often has a poor prognosis: for all stages combined. The 1- and 5-year relative survival rates are 25% and 6%, respectively. The median survival for locally advanced and for metastatic disease, which collectively represent over 80% of individuals, is about 10 and 6 months respectively.
Professor David Tuveson, from the Cambridge Research Institute, UK, and team demonstrated in animal studies that MRK003, an experimental medication, when combined with chemotherapy medication gemcitabine, set off a domino effect which ultimately destroyed the malignant cells. The researchers explained that when the two drugs are combined, the effect of each one is multiplied, thus intensifying the destruction of pancreatic cancer cells.
The drug combo is being used in a human study, a clinical trial, which is being managed by Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, together with Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office.
MRK003 is a gamma secretase inhibitor. It inhibits, or blocks a crucial cell signaling pathway in both pancreatic cancer cells and the cells in the lining of blood vessels that supply the tumor with vital nourishment (endothelial cells).
Gemcitabine is a nucleoside analog. It is commonly used in pancreatic cancer therapy, as well as non-small cell lung cancer, bladder cancer and breast cancer.
Dr. Julie Sharp commented:
“This discovery shows how investigating the cell pathways involved in cancer can reveal new approached to tackle the disease. There’s an urgent need for new drugs for pancreatic cancer. The disease is often not diagnosed until it has spread, making it very difficult to treat. “