Pancreatic Cancer Treatment: Pharmaceuticals Point the Way

(DGIwire) – Recent discoveries are raising hopes for the prospects of patients who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Currently, as noted in a recent article published in STAT, just 20 percent of pancreatic patients survive one year after diagnosis and less than 10 percent make it to the five-year mark. However, advances in the laboratory are offering new insights into the causes and progression of the disease and they may ultimately help doctors better detect and treat this difficult cancer.

The STAT article profiles some of these cutting-edge findings in the field. For example, some researchers have concluded that pancreatic tumors are often studded with bacteria that deflect chemotherapy. A separate finding determined that diabetes may be a warning sign for pancreatic cancer, while a third group of researchers found that genetic markers might help predict the ultimate outcomes for patients with cancer of the pancreas.

“The imaginative research in pancreatic cancer is very welcome in light of the seriousness of this type of diagnosis,” says Peter D. Suzdak, Ph.D., CEO of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals. “Additional insights are coming from the world of small-molecule therapeutics that can be taken orally and have shown to selectively act on cancer cells.”

This approach is underway at Rexahn, which is studying a compound named RX-3117 in metastatic pancreatic cancer. The compound is activated by a specific enzyme that is found to a significant extent only in cancer cells. Once the activated compound is transported into the cell’s nucleus, it becomes incorporated into the genetic material of the cell and kills it. The compound is active only in cancer cells and has little effect on normal tissue, so it has the potential to be effective without the usual toxicity associated with anticancer drugs.

To date, RX-3117, which has been awarded orphan drug designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has generated strong safety and encouraging efficacy data. It is currently in a Phase 2 clinical study as a first-line treatment with nab-paclitaxel in metastatic pancreatic cancer and is also in Phase 2 in advanced bladder cancer.

“Researchers working today are eager to improve the standard of care for this indication and excited by what they are seeing in the laboratory,” Dr. Suzdak adds.