Pancreatic cancer drug paves the way for new treatment

Medicine is hoping a new experimental drug might someday shrink tumors in patients with metastatic or recurrent pancreatic cancer, a deadly disease with no effective treatment options.

Researchers at Stony Brook University tested an experimental drug, vemurafenib, on mice with advanced pancreatic cancer and found the mice responded faster, and recovered faster, after they were treated with the experimental drug than they did without it.

In the study, researchers tested 12 mice at a time for a course of treatment ranging from 1 to 5 days, and monitored the mice for the next 24 hours. Eight mice received the drug immediately after diagnosis and eight got treatment the next day. The mice whose tumors got the drug immediately showed significant improvement at 24 hours, with decreased tumor growth and greater survival. By the fourth day, no tumor growth remained and the mice lived for an average of 24 days, with 50 percent of those mice recovering 100 percent of the previous level of function, reported Egno Ozdemir, one of the study’s authors.

“The response to vemurafenib was very immediate and rapid,” said co-author Chihiro Tanaka.

Larger mice did not fare as well. Even after receiving the drug, tumors appeared to have grown, with some tumors doubling in size, said Dr. Richard Pound, another of the study’s authors. Though they noted the finding was only done in mice with advanced pancreatic cancer, Pound said this proves why the drug might have the potential to work on humans.

“It is conceivable,” Pound said, “that this could be translated to humans because mice are so similar in terms of developing cancer that is cancerous.”

The researchers found no other side effects, and did not find the drug to be toxic to the mice after treatment. Valeant Pharmaceuticals currently holds the FDA approval to manufacture the drug.

Patients would have to undergo chemotherapy for at least two cycles to receive the treatment. Though, Pound said, they see no problem with making that chemotherapy shorter, because they could bypass people with the disease prior to that first dose.

The study was published in the journal Cancer.

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