Could two targeted therapies be a better solution for pancreatic cancer?

July 24, 2012 | by Wayne Lewis

Imagine a familiar scenario straight out of your favorite scary movie.

Image of scary silhouette in doorwayA relentless villain sets his sights on a bunch of carefree teens. As the terror mounts, they throw one obstacle after another in his path. But lock a door and he breaks through a window. Barricade a window and he busts through the wall.

No matter what, he finds a way to keep … on … coming.

Cancer has a lot in common with our cinematic slasher. That’s how it gets ahead. It’s got a lot of different tools it uses to grow, multiply and spread. When one gets shut down, it often can find ways around the roadblock.

So doctors like Vincent Chung, M.D., are trying to stop cancer in several ways at once.

Chung, clinical associate professor of medical oncology, is leading a national trial testing a strategy that uses two innovative drugs together to fight pancreatic cancer. These trials usually match a targeted therapy with traditional chemotherapy, but Chung’s is different. Could it also be better?

The two treatments interfere with separate, parallel genes that are part of what’s called the Kras pathway. A mutation to Kras contributes to most pancreatic cancers. Chung and his colleagues aim to cut off these two alternate routes that help mutated Kras do its cancerous work.

Both of these therapies are new targeted drugs created by pharmaceutical companies. Importantly, they also come out of a pill bottle instead of an IV bag. Patients can take them at home instead of taking weekly, time-consuming trips to a medical center for chemo infusions.

Being able to take a medicine by mouth every day instead of going to the hospital could lift some of the burden of treatment and give patients more time with their family and friends.

Through the study, funded by a grant from the Susan E. Riley Family Foundation, scientists will examine patients’ blood and tissue samples, too. This will give the researchers a chance to match up how well each patient responds to treatment with his or her individual genetic profile.

If the drugs help patients with certain genetic profiles, it could boost growing efforts to use genetic tests to choose the most effective therapy for each individual cancer patient. And that could mean good news for pancreatic patients holding out for signs of hope.

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