Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, a common and aggressive type of cancer, often develops resistance to treatments such as chemotherapy. However, a new drug tested in mice may be able to eliminate the cancer’s defenses.
pipette and test tubes research concept photo
Scientists have developed and are hoping to improve a drug that blocks pancreatic cancer’s resistance to chemotherapy.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2018, there will be around 55,440 new cases of pancreatic cancer and about 44,330 deaths related to this type of cancer in the United States.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma accounts for approximately 90 percent of pancreatic cancer cases, according to specialists.

It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

However, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is highly resistant to chemotherapy, which renders the survival rates for this cancer dishearteningly low. Its 5-year survival rate, as reported by the NCI, is only 8.5 percent.

It is also fast-growing and highly aggressive, as its interaction with a type of fat-storing cell known as stellate cells ultimately allows the cancer to progress and spread to other parts of the body.

So, scientists always strive to find better strategies to destroy pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma tumors and improve prognosis.

Over the past few years, scientists at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, have been developing a drug to block pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma’s resistance to therapy, thereby allowing cancer treatments to effectively destroy tumors.

Recently, they report in the study paper now published in the journal Gastroenterology, they demonstrated that this new drug is effective in mouse models of pancreatic cancer.

In the future, they aim to see if it is safe and just as effective in humans.

Survival increased by 50 percent in mice

Over a period of 4 years, the researchers — led by Dr. Mouad Edderkaoui — worked assiduously to try to synthesize a compound that would be able to halt the activity of pancreatic cancer cells. This way, they developed a new drug that they named Metavert.

Metavert, they found, is able to inhibit pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells’ resistance to chemotherapy. Moreover, it boosts the effect of radiotherapy used in combination with two common chemotherapy drugs: paclitaxel and gemcitabine.

Furthermore, when the researchers used it in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, Metavert increased the rodents’ survival rates by approximately 50 percent.

“I’ve seen patients who respond to therapy for a while, and then the disease takes off because the cancer becomes smart — it blocks chemotherapy from working,” says senior study author Dr. Stephen Pandol. “Metavert targets that action,” he explains.

Right now, the investigators are working on further improving the newly developed drug with the aim of eventually testing it in humans.

“[The current research] is an exciting step toward improving survival rates in pancreatic cancer patients,” says Dr. Edderkaoui.

If the results are confirmed in humans, we could have a drug with the potential to significantly extend the lives of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma […], which is very difficult to treat.”

Dr. Mouad Edderkaoui