Investigational Chemotherapies for Pancreatic Cancer

Combating Pancreatic Cancer with Novel Drug Therapies

Diana Sokol-RothDiana Sokol-Roth turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for treatment, where physicians are constantly involved in leading-edge research. Diana met with Hedy Kindler, MD, who answered every question she had, and after that meeting, Diana knew she had “found somebody that was going to get us through the next chapter.” » Read Diana's story

Unfortunately, standard chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer often yields disappointing results. Gemcitabine (Gemzar), the standard drug for this disease, shrinks tumors at a low rate. Yet, it does make some people with pancreatic cancer feel better, and improves survival rates for a few.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology are testing several promising new investigational therapies for pancreatic cancer. Our oncologists are pioneers in this area--often being among the first to offer certain experimental treatments for the disease.

Highlights of studies under way:

  • Scientists here are studying an investigational antibody, called bevacizumab (Avastin), and its affect on inhibiting the growth of vessels that feed pancreatic tumors. University of Chicago clinical researchers combined Avastin with gemcitabine, a standard therapy, and saw remarkable results. In a presentation given at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in June 2003, Hedy L. Kindler, MD, director of gastrointestinal oncology, reported that this combined therapy boosted the one-year survival rate in patients who previously received no chemotherapy from 18 percent to 53 percent. "That's dramatic," says Dr. Kindler. "This treatment is very well tolerated and is getting a lot of attention." The success of the initial study led to a larger, nationwide trial that is being led by the University of Chicago.
  • Another unusual approach uses arsenic trioxide, a poison that has been used in medicine in China for 2,000 years. "Pancreatic cancer cells respond to arsenic in the laboratory, so we're testing it in people," says Dr. Kindler. This same drug is now standard therapy for one type of leukemia.
  • SDX102 is an experimental drug that targets an abnormal pathway in pancreas cancer. This drug is being tested on patients whose cancer has worsened after treatment with gemcitabine.