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2 Experimental Drugs Show Promise for Rare Pancreatic Cancer
Date:2/9/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A pair of tumor-inhibiting drugs more than doubled the progression-free survival time for patients with a rare type of pancreatic cancer, according to two new studies.

In separate phase 3 trials by French and American scientists, the drugs everolimus and sunitinib extended the survival of participants with advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors from about five months to 11 months.

Also known as islet cell carcinoma, this type of pancreatic cancer represents a small proportion of all such malignancies but has a better prognosis than adenocarcinoma, the more common and deadlier form. Fewer than 20 percent of adenocarcinoma patients are still alive one year after diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society, while the study authors said the median survival of neuroendocrine patients is 27 months.

Both studies were reported in the Feb. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I had a pretty good feeling about the study," said Dr. James Yao, lead author of the everolimus research and deputy chair of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "This is certainly what we were hoping for. I think the magnitude of the treatment difference was very good to us."

The new medications, which are awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, work by inhibiting growth factors in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors -- the same cancer for which Apple CEO Steve Jobs was treated in 2004.

The everolimus study, funded by the drug's maker, Novartis Oncology, analyzed 410 patients from 82 health centers in 18 countries worldwide. All patients had either inoperable or metastatic neuroendocrine pancreatic tumors and were randomly assigned to receive either everolimus (10 milligrams daily) or a placebo.

The sunitinib study, funded by drugmaker Pfizer, had 171 parti
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