TUESDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- Giving four weeks of a targeted drug before starting chemotherapy improved response rates in a small group of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, University of Michigan researchers report.
The results are "very, very preliminary," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La., but may show "a modicum of progress at least in understanding the biology of the disease. Pancreatic cancer is an incredibly difficult cancer to treat."
The findings were presented Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer Research's conference on pancreatic cancer in Lake Tahoe, Nev.
The drug, GDC-0449, targets the Sonic Hedgehog signaling pathway, which is switched on when cancer is present.
Activation of the pathway seems to contribute to the scarring characteristics of pancreatic cancer, which makes it harder for chemotherapy drugs to penetrate and do their job.
The researchers hypothesized that giving GDC-0449 before chemotherapy might improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and their early findings indicate that may be the case.
GDC is already used for advanced basal cell carcinoma under the name Erivedge (vismodegib).
Twenty-one patients with previously untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer first received four weeks of GDC, given in pill form once a day, then chemotherapy with the drug gemcitabine.
Biopsies taken both before GDC was given and three weeks later showed tumor shrinkage in five patients while another four patients achieved "stable" disease, meaning the tumor was not shrinking or growing.
The drug was most effective in patients who initially had high levels of Hedgehog expression.
Hedgehog levels are notably elevated in cancer stem cells. These are "a subset of cells identified in many cancers, including pancreatic cancer, which are believed not
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