Pancreatic cancer: Trial drug MRK003 shows promise 2

Doctors want to improve the prognosis of this aggressive cancer and scientists say they may have found a new weapon against pancreatic cancer after promising early trial results of an experimental drug combination. Giving the chemotherapy agent gemcitabine with an experimental drug called MRK003 sets off a chain of events that ultimately kills cancer cells, studies in mice show. Patients are now testing the treatment to see if it will work for them. The Cancer Research UK-funded trials are being carried out in Cambridge.

Father-of-two Richard Griffiths, 41, from Coventry, has been on the trial since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2011.

“After six cycles of treatment, a scan showed the tumours had reduced and so I have continued with the treatment,” he said. “The trial gives you hope – I really feel I can do this with the science behind me.”

Cancer Research UK says it is prioritising research into pancreatic cancer because the survival rate still remains dismally low. About 8,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, and the disease is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK. Survival rates are very low in relation to other cancers, and the length of time between diagnosis and death is typically short, usually less than six months. The most recent data for England show that about 16% of patients survive the disease beyond 12 months after diagnosis – prompting the need for new treatments.

Professor Duncan Jodrell, who is leading the trials at the University of Cambridge, said:

“We’re delighted that the results of this important research are now being evaluated in a clinical trial, to test whether this might be a new treatment approach for patients with pancreatic cancer, although it will be some time before we’re able to say how successful this will be in patients.”

In total, about 60 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer will be recruited for the first Phase I/II clinical trial.

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