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05Mar 2020

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Netherlands Cancer Institute receives US grant for pancreatic cancer research

Rene Bernards Emile Voest Su2c Grant Alvleesklier

Two years ago, researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute discovered a new weakness of pancreatic cancers. Currently, they are in the process of harnessing that knowledge to develop a combination therapy, and their lab work so far has produced promising results. Now, the American Pancreatic Cancer Collective has awarded the team a research grant of 3.8 million dollars, allowing them to start working towards a clinical trial.

Pancreatic cancer is still one of the deadliest forms of cancer, as recent figures from the Netherlands Cancer Registry confirm: only 1 in 20 patients is still alive five years after receiving their diagnosis. As doctors and scientists continue their relentless search for new treatment methods, organisations like Stand up to Cancer and the Lustgarten Foundation in the US have joined forces in the Pancreatic Cancer Collective, determined to change patients' prospects.

Additional evidence

Last year, the Pancreatic Cancer Collective already awarded 7 million dollars in funding to seven leading research groups, enabling them to investigate new treatment strategies in the lab. René Bernards' team at the Netherlands Cancer Institute was one of those seven groups. In a previous study, they had shown that their combination therapy worked well in mice. With the support of the Pancreatic Cancer Collective, they have now collected the additional evidence they need to actually start setting up a clinical trial with human patients. To support this phase of the group's research, the American collective has now made available 3.8 million dollars in funding.

Indirect inhibition

Almost all pancreatic cancer cases involve a mutation of the KRAS protein. Still, there are hardly any drugs that effectively inhibit this hyperactive protein in cancer cells. The new treatment method that will be tested combines an SHP2 inhibitor and an ERK inhibitor. These are targeted drugs which directly affect a specific protein that communicates with the KRAS protein, indirectly inhibiting the mutated KRAS protein.

The clinical trial will initially focus on finding a safe dosage that is tolerable for patients. After this first phase, the researchers will also look at the effectiveness of the combination treatment. The study, led by medical oncologist and medical director Emile Voest, is expected to commence at the end of 2020, both at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and at a university hospital in Munich, where medical oncologist Hana Algül has conducted similar preclinical studies on this treatment strategy.

The study described above builds on prior research funded by the Dutch Cancer Society.

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