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Pancreatic Cancer Research & Trials

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all major cancers. Research and clinical trials are absolutely key to tackling this fact.

With help from our supporters and international networks, the Gut Cancer Foundation funds New Zealand studies and brings global clinical trials to New Zealand, giving Kiwis access to potentially life-saving treatment.

Pancreatic Cancer Research Funding Round

This November, the Gut Cancer Foundation is offering a grant of $100,000 for a clinical trial or pre-clinical research designed to improve the detection, diagnosis, or treatment of pancreatic cancer in New Zealand. 

This grant will be made possible thanks to the amazing support of the PanCan Gala, and GCF's wonderful supporters.

With applications now closed, we know already that demand outweighs the funds currently available. That is why your support is so vital this November. The more we are able to raise from the gala, and our Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month activities, the more applications we will be able to support.

Pancreatic cancer research funded by Gut Cancer Foundation supporters


Patients with newly diagnosed advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer have limited treatment options. Chemotherapy options include FOLFIRINOX and gemcitabine with or without nab-paclitaxel. FOLFIRINOX is effective and funded in NZ, but unfortunately, not all patients are well enough to handle its high rates of side effects.

Gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel is an alternative option for these patients but this is not a viable option for many New Zealanders due to the lack of PHARMAC funding for nab-paclitaxel. As a result, treatment options are limited for our cancer patients.

Watch Dr Ben Lawrence discuss the ASCEND clinical trial and the potential benefits for New Zealanders with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the cancers where it is difficult to get chemotherapy drugs into the environment that the cancer cells exist in, the tumour microenvironment. This is reflected in the limited response some patients with pancreatic cancer get from chemotherapy, and the poor survival from pancreatic cancer. CEND-1 is a new type of drug that helps small molecules, like chemotherapy drugs, get from the bloodstream into cancer cells, without increasing the amount of chemotherapy drug that is taken up by normal cells.

The ASCEND trial will compare whether adding CEND-1 to gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel will improve outcomes for patients with newly diagnosed advanced metastatic pancreas cancer. In initial research and very early trials, adding the newly developed messenger drug (CEND-1) has been seen to significantly improve the delivery of chemotherapy to the tumour.
For participating patients in New Zealand, this trial has significant dual benefits. Every one of the 19 New Zealanders that access this trial will be given the international standard of care treatment gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel, a treatment option that is not funded in New Zealand. In addition, two-thirds of the patients will receive CEND-1 as part of the investigation into whether this new agent improves the delivery of their chemotherapy treatment.
As with all clinical trials the criterion for recruitment is restricted and selective. The ASCEND trial will begin recruiting New Zealand patients in 2022 and anyone interested in finding out more should discuss it with their specialist.


Gut Cancer Foundation supporters have contributed to bringing the MASTERPLAN clinical trial to New Zealand.

Starting recruitment in late 2021, this Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Clinical Trials Group (AGITG) study is investigating whether Stereotactic Radiotherapy (SBRT) can increase patients’ eligibility for surgery, and reduce the likelihood of the tumour recurring for those whose tumour cannot be surgically removed.

As surgery is the only possible cure for pancreatic cancer, advances in treatment that lead to more patients becoming eligible for surgery could help improve survival rates and quality of life.

In addition, the trial will look at whether SBRT can also improve life expectancy and quality of life for patients whose tumour is too advanced for surgery.

Circulating Tumour DNA (ctDNA) as a Biomarker Pancreatic Cancer - Closed

Cancers are caused by gene mutations in the DNA inside each cancer cell. We can detect the mutated DNA floating in normal blood. Because the normal DNA in blood has very few mutations, the presence of specific mutated DNA can signal the presence of a cancer.

The aim of this study was to test whether this mutated DNA can be detected in the blood of patients with pancreas cancer. The idea being that it could then become a useful diagnostic test that might lead to being able to diagnose the cancer earlier while surgery is still possible.

This exciting study concluded that ctDNA has promise for a screening test for pancreatic cancer, and for predicting relapse in people with pancreatic cancer. The results have formed the basis of ongoing research into this hugely important area of work, and further clinical trials that are currently ongoing.

What are clinical trials?

Clinical trials are fundamental to the future of cancer treatment. They are the final link in the chain of medical research, advancing discoveries made in laboratories into treatments that improve the quality of life for patients.

Clinical trials are not about labs or test tubes; they are real-life studies involving patients, and they often produce major advances.

Generally, the funding pool for research in New Zealand is quite small, but for clinical trials in particular it is very difficult for New Zealand's brightest minds to source the necessary funding. As a result, New Zealanders miss out on access to the latest treatment options.

With your support, the Gut Cancer Foundation can help give New Zealanders access to international clinical trials by directly funding the cost of setting the trial up and patient participation.

How does your support help?

"We come to work each day to help people survive their cancer journeys better, and for longer. Gut Cancer Foundation supporters raise funds and awareness to help us research methods for earlier detection and better treatments.”

Professor Michael Findlay - founding board member of the Gut Cancer Foundation

Donate to GCF today

We appreciate any support you can give to help fund clinical research and raise awareness of Gut Cancers.