What’s Next in the Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer?

(DGIwire) – Sobering news from the world of medicine: More than 56,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, according to a recent estimate by the American Cancer Society. This represents a two percent increase over the previous year’s diagnoses. While the ACS also states that the disease’s five-year survival rate continues to stand at nine percent, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network reports that there is unprecedented progress taking place in laboratories and clinics to battle this disease.

“Although the challenges posed by pancreatic cancer and other difficult-to-treat cancers are daunting, new initiatives are underway, studying the potential of treatments to be administered either alone or in tandem with existing therapies,” says Douglas J. Swirsky, President and CEO of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals. “Some of the most interesting of these approaches have shown promising results to date.”

Rexahn is studying its proprietary compound RX-3117 in pancreatic cancer and advanced bladder cancer, and another compound, RX-5902, in triple negative breast cancer. The company believes there is a strong possibility that these compounds—administered alone or in tandem with either chemotherapy or immunotherapy—can offer a “one-two punch” that can do a better job of knocking these cancers out.

Broadly, RX-3117—which has been granted orphan drug designation for pancreatic cancer—can bind with an activation enzyme found mainly in cancer cells. Once activated, this compound travels into a cancer cell’s nucleus where it is incorporated into the DNA and RNA, resulting in the cell’s death. This approach differs from traditional chemotherapy, which non-selectively kills both cancer cells and normal healthy tissue in the body. Studies to date indicated that in addition to killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact, RX-3117 has shown few severe adverse events and allows oral dosing. It may also be able to work in tandem with existing therapies and facilitate a spectrum of anticancer activity.

RX-3117 is being evaluated in combination with a chemotherapeutic drug in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Preliminary data from the first 24 patients in the study show that RX-3117 is safe and well-tolerated. One patient experienced a complete response after six months of therapy; eight patients exhibited a partial response; and a further 13 patients had stable disease. The overall response rate was 38 percent and the disease stabilization rate at eight weeks was 92 percent.

Meanwhile, RX-5902 binds to a key protein that is also found primarily in tumor cells and only in very small amounts in normal tissue. By doing so, RX-5902 turns off cancer genes, resulting in a decrease in cancer cell growth and metastases, and an increase in the body’s immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Preliminary data from a triple negative breast cancer study in patients whose cancer had progressed after multiple prior treatments showed encouraging clinical responses, with two patients showing stable disease for longer than 200 days.

“Ongoing studies suggest the future might hold greater range of options for those with pancreatic and other cancers,” Swirsky adds.