New Boon for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

A new drug therapy that annihilates the blood vessels that grow to feed malignant tumors is showing considerable promise in increasing the longevity of patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Recent research, led by Matthias Löhr of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, shows that a drug called EndoTAG-1 (chemical name: cationic lipid complexed paclitaxel), when infused with gemcitabine, can substantially extend life. In his study involving 200 subjects with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, Löhr treated half of them, the control group, with gemcitabine alone.

"EndoTAG consists of charged particles that bind preferentially to the fast-growing endothelial cells [that line the interior] of new blood vessels being formed by tumors," Löhr said. "The drug, paclitaxel, is then released and thus directly reaches an important target in tumors, i.e., the vessels. Paclitaxel itself is not very efficient in pancreatic cancer."

 The researchers followed patients for a year. They found that the EndoTAG-gemcitabine combination considerably extended patients' survival time, compared with standard therapy. Patients receiving gemcitabine alone survived an average of 7.2 months. But those treated repeatedly with the combination survived up to 13.6 months.

 "These results are the best I have ever seen in palliative treatment in pancreatic cancer," Löhr said. "The results are really excellent, and a phase III study is in the making." A phase III clinical trial is one that studies a much larger patient group over a much longer duration in order to definitively determine the effectiveness and safety of a new pharmaceutical.


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