Trial reveals new drug combination increases survival in pancreatic cancer patients

A phase III clinical trial has shown that the combination of Abraxane and gemcitabine significantly increases survival in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. While only making up 2.1% of all newly diagnosed cancers, pancreatic cancer currently has the lowest survival rates of any cancer type. The trial, run by doctors at Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Centre Clinical Trials, targeted adenocarcinomas, which account for the vast majority of cases of pancreatic cancer.

The Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Clinical Trial (MPACT) was a randomised, international study comparing the outcomes for 861 patients who received either Abraxane combined with gemcitabine or the standard treatment of gemcitabine alone. Abraxane consists of an older chemotherapeutic agent, paclitaxel, bound to a human protein called albumin. Paclitaxel exerts its tumour-fighting effects by stabilising microtubules and therefore inhibiting mitosis, while the bound albumin enhances delivery of the drug into tumour cells.

Results from the trial are promising, with 35% of patients taking both Abraxane and gemcitabine alive at the end of the first year, compared to 22% of those taking just gemcitabine. This shows an improvement in one-year survival of 59%, while the two-year survival rate was more than doubled from 4% to 9%. Importantly, there was no evidence that drug combination had an increased toxicity.

Abraxane is already approved for the treatment of breast cancer and last year was also approved for use in non-small cell lung cancer. On the basis of these results, Celgene, the makers of Abraxane, plan to apply for registration for use of Abraxane in the treatment of pancreatic cancer in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Trials are also underway to test whether the drug may be effective in treating other cancers, such as bladder and ovarian cancers.

About Louise Thompson

Louise is a second year undergraduate studying Biomedical Sciences at St Hughs.