Advancements in Promising New Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Using Two Drugs

A group of researchers have recently utilized a new combination drug therapy that could combat pancreatic cancer more effectively. This new combination therapy consists of two drugs already approved by the FDA for other diseases, including cancer. Published this week in Nature Medicine, this study was conducted by researchers from Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U).

The pancreatic tumor is characterized by mutations in the gene KRAS. When this gene is mutated in a certain manner, it signals abnormal growth and proliferation in cancer cells. The pancreatic cancer cells also undergo a process known as autophagy, in which they recycle cellular components to fuel growth. Previous research has aimed to combat pancreatic cancer by targeting the role of KRAS or autophagy, however these attempts have not been effective.

This new HCI study, however, approached treating pancreatic cancer by simultaneously targeting both abnormal KRAS pathways as well as the autophagy process. This method showed strong response in mouse models and could potentially translate to treating human patients with pancreatic cancer. This study was led by Conan Kinsey, MD, PhD, a physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Department of Internal Medicine at the U of U and Martin McMahon, PhD, a cancer researcher at HCI and Professor of Dermatology at the U of U.

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“We were able to observe that the combination of these two drugs — which, when used individually, don’t have much of an impact on the disease — appears to have a very potent impact on the growth of pancreatic cancer,” said McMahon. “We have observed this in the lab in petri dishes, then in mouse models, and now in a pancreatic cancer patient on a compassionate use basis. Indeed, we proceeded from a petri dish to a patient in less than two years — a timeline that is rarely seen in medical science.”

The findings of this HCI research is supported by those of a separate study published in the same issue of Nature Medicine. Led by Channing Der, PhD, Sarah Graham Kenan, PhD, and Kirsten Bryant, PhD, at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, this other study outlined findings regarding autophagy’s effects in pancreatic cancer development in the laboratory setting.

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Both McMahon and Der learned of their program’s similarities at a meeting last year. With respect for each other’s work and advancements in pancreatic cancer therapies being in high demand, the two decided to push their studies forward together.

“In our paper, we show the response of a pancreatic cancer patient who had received surgery and multiple lines of chemotherapy prior to this combination,” said Kinsey, who also functioned as the patient’s physician. “This patient, who has since succumbed to the disease, nevertheless had a remarkable response to these drugs for several months. We need to carefully evaluate this new combination therapy in the context of clinical trials to better understand if good responses might be seen in multiple patients. We also need to identify the specific features of any patient who may benefit, before any recommendation can be made about use on a larger scale.”

Source: Science Daily

Jack is a Pre-Med Student at Penn State University with a keen interest in how new medical technologies are changing the future of healthcare. Reach out to Jack if you have a compelling story idea or with feedback about past articles.