Pancreatic cancer is the ninth and tenth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and men, respectively, in the U.S. It is the fourth deadliest cancer for men and women. It is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially in over 40 years.
- An estimated 57,600 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with 47,050 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- Pancreatic cancer is expected to become the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. by the year 2030.
- The overall five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9%.
- Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include tobacco use, overweight and obesity, heavy exposure to certain chemicals, family history of the disease, age, chronic or hereditary pancreatitis, and long-standing type 2 diabetes. Individuals with Lynch syndrome and certain other genetic syndromes, as well as BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers, are also at increased risk.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2018)
Pancreatic Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack pancreatic cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Dr. Danny Welch and his team have discovered eight metastasis suppressor genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells. The most recent of these discoveries is the ITI5H gene that blocks metastasis of pancreatic cancer in experimental models of metastasis. In a panel of human pancreatic cancer samples, expression of ITIH5 correlated with nearly 25% 7-year survival, compared to the 9% 5-year survival for most patients. While this discovery research is in its early stages, ITI5H holds promise for understanding how pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas metastasize and could be used as a biomarker to guide physicians in planning treatment for patients.
NFCR began funding Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng in 1991 with his discovery research on PH-906 (now known as YIV-906) – a botanical drug that enhances ant-cancer activity in immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. YIV-906 also protects the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Patients with pancreatic cancer were some of the first patients to experience these beneficial properties of YIV-906 in early Phase I clinical trials.
With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, Dr. Cheng has now brought YIV-906 to a global Phase II clinical trial in 2020. YIV-906 is first treating Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)-associated liver cancer in combination with sorafenib, a front-line drug that has modest response rates and serious toxicities. If YIV-906 improves patients’ outcomes, it could become one of the first FDA-approved oral herbal medicines for anti-cancer treatment. Its acceptance as an approved drug would facilitate future clinical trials to benefit patients with other types of cancer. Significantly, since YIV-906 affects multiple biological systems, it will usher in a new model for drug discovery to treat patients holistically.
Dr. Daniel Von Hoff has developed an antibody pipeline to create strategic therapies of ‘monoclonal antibodies’ – proteins that specifically bind and inhibit one substance. The first monoclonal antibodies in development are those that bind to a key molecular ‘target’ found on fibrotic cells that surround pancreatic and other types of cancer. Targets bound with antibody can no longer signal to tumor cells to metastasize from the primary tumor. With funds from NFCR, promising monoclonal antibodies are in final pre-clinical stages and may soon enter clinical trials to treat colorectal cancer patients who need a new effective treatment to save their lives. The strategic monoclonal antibodies to stop growth and metastasis in pancreatic and lung cancer will be a future application of this promising treatment.