University participates in pancreatic cancer treatment program

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 6:52pm

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is joining 11 other institutions in a new initiative, Precision Promise, adopted by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The program aims to transform pancreatic cancer treatment and double survival rates by 2020.

Precision Promise uses an individualized treatment method that targets individuals’ molecular profile and tumors. Several smaller sub-studies within this treatment method will make it easier for patients to switch treatment options quickly if necessary.

Diane Simeone, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at the University, is the U.S. lead and overall co-leader of the project. In an interview with the Daily, she said by doing molecular sequencing and biopsies of patients before and during treatment, doctors and researchers will have a better idea of how to treat patients, and it will teach them why certain treatment methods work or not.

Simeone also said having the most up-to-date information on the condition is crucial to its success, and the program was rigorously vetted by an expert teams of scientists made up of between 50 and 60 scientists across the globe.

“The clinical trials that are developed (must) be based on the absolute best science, not just what drug might be available from a pharmaceutical company,” she said.

Simeone also said this effort is necessary because pancreatic cancer is becoming more common and still has a low survival rate.

“Pancreatic cancer was a type of cancer that really has been in the shadows,” she said. “It has originally been thought to be an uncommon cancer, but its incidence is increasing, In fact, it’s the only major cancer that still has a survival rate in the single digits, highlighting the importance of work needed in this area.”

The University Health System said in a press release that the United States, pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of death related to cancer. However, only 4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients participate in clinical trials. Precision Promise aims to increase that number.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is contributing 35 million dollars in the next four years to get the operation going. It also developed an independent process to pick the first 12 centers to implement the program, based on factors such as the number of patients with pancreatic cancer and the number of patients on clinical trial.

The University is one of the chosen centers. According to Simeone, nearly 40 centers applied and the program hopes to expand beyond that number.

“The goal is to be inclusive, so as soon as additional funds flow forward, as quickly as possible, these other centers will be brought on board,” she said. “We envision this will become the largest clinical trial infrastructure in the United States for pancreatic cancer.”

The goal is to enroll the first patient in the program in March 2017.