Australian scientists have uncovered a promising new approach to treating pancreatic cancer that makes tumours more responsive to chemotherapy by first weakening it with a drug used to treat stroke.
Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 7 per cent, but it’s hoped this new “two-step” approach to treating the deadly disease will help double survival by 2020.
The treatment works by ‘priming’ pancreatic tumours with a three-day course of Fasudil, a drug commonly used on stroke victims.
This softens the tumour ahead of the standard-of-care chemotherapy.
Researchers at The Garvan Institute say the approach doubled survival time and also impaired the spread of cancer when trialled on mice and patient tumour samples from the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative.
Dr Marina Pajic and Dr Paul Timpson, who co-led the study published in journal Science Translational Medicine, believe they are a step closer to using this treatment in a clinical setting.
“Fasudil is already in clinical use as a treatment for stroke in Japan and is off-patent, so there is strong potential to repurpose it for the treatment of pancreatic cancer,” Pajic said.
The research team now aims to translate these findings into an early-stage clinical study to examine the treatment’s safety.
“There has been a heated and longstanding controversy in cancer research about whether targeting the stroma can make pancreatic tumours more susceptible to therapy,” Timpson said.
“I think we have resolved that debate. We’ve been able to show for the first time that it’s crucial to treat the stroma first and the tumour second, and to fine-tune the treatment timing to maximise outcome, while minimising side-effects.”