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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 is currently funding 3 clinical trials here in New Zealand

Pancreatic cancer research funded by Gut Cancer Foundation supporters

IPMN pancreatic cysts study - In Set Up Stage

In the IPMN trial, 20 patients across Waikato and Waitematā are being funded with money raised through GCF donors – largely from the 2022 PanCan Gala. The IPMN cyst study aims to trial a new treatment for IPMN pancreatic cysts which injects chemotherapy directly into the cyst.

IPMN pancreatic cysts occur in hundreds of New Zealanders every year and in the most high-risk cases, there is a 25 percent chance that they develop into pancreatic cancer. Treatment options are very limited and restricted to major, life changing surgery, which carries high risk often due to other health issues and comorbidities.

The new treatment has been developed in the United States and has had a high success rate in shrinking cysts, with most disappearing completely and not reoccurring, meaning the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is eradicated for most patients.

If proved successful, this treatment would reduce the number of patients requiring surgery, treat patients who are not fit for surgery, and reduce the incidence of invasive pancreatic adenocarcinoma. This is also likely to reduce inequity for Māori, who are at higher risk of being ineligible for surgery for these IPMN cysts. (And data published by the Ministry of Health showed that in 2019, pancreatic cancer rates were 80 percent higher among Māori than non-Māori.)

Key points about the IPMN Study:

  1. This study highlights a potential cost saving to the health system. If cancer develops and is operable, a cyst ablation costs $4,100 versus a whipple surgery which costs $97,000 per patient.

  2. There are no screening programmes for pancreatic cancer; this is the closest to aiming to prevent cancer from occurring in a high-risk group of patients. Providing an effective, preventative approach to dealing with a significant number of potential pancreatic cancer cases in a group of patients with virtually no options could have a huge impact.

  3. The IPMN trial is expected to start recruiting by early next year.

ASCEND - Recruiting

ASCEND is a trial to investigate whether adding CEND-1 to chemotherapy improves the efficacy of treatment for patients with advanced metastasized pancreatic cancer. CEND-1 is a new type of drug that helps chemotherapy get from the bloodstream into the cancer cells. The trial gives all participating patients access to international standard of care with drugs that are not currently funded here, with two-thirds of participants also receiving CEND-1

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

Key points about ASCEND:

  1. The experimental arm of the study is trialling a new type of treatment that could improve the efficacy and effectiveness and impact of existing chemotherapy treatment.

  2. Everyone on the trial receives a chemotherapy drugs combination that is not funded here, so every participant is getting a standard of care that is better than New Zealand and in line with the international standard.

  3. It is providing an option for a cohort of patients (those with metastasised pancreatic cancer) that has limited options.

  4. GCF is funding 19 patients on this trial across the three sites (Auckland, Waikato, Dunedin) at a cost of $81,059, or $4,266 per patient.

  5. Patient recruitment to ASCEND  has been very successful and it looks like the trial will be moving into analysis stage in the new year. The strong recruitment is evidence of the number of patients who are diagnosed at a late stage and are in desperate need of new treatment options..

MASTERPLAN - Recruiting

MASTERPLAN looks at whether the addition of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) to chemotherapy will delay tumour growth in the pancreas, resulting in longer survival and improved quality of life in patients with high-risk operable, borderline resectable (BRPC) and locally advanced pancreatic cancer (LAPC). In patients for who surgery is not possible, SBRT may delay tumour growth in the pancreas, resulting in longer survival and improved quality of life.

  1. GCF is helping to fund 12 patients at a cost of $68,000. This trial gives a possible route to longer survival time after diagnosis and better quality of life, meaning more time with loved ones – giving options to a cohort of patients with limited options.

  2. The techniques being introduced to the sites taking part (Wellington and Christchurch) will have an impact beyond pancreatic cancer, as they can be used on other cancer sites (including colon, gall bladder, and liver).

  3. As with all clinical trials the criterion for recruitment is restricted and selective. Anyone interested in finding out more about the MASTERPLAN trial, which is recruiting until 31 December 2024, should discuss it with their specialist.

Pancreatic Cancer Research Funding

Thanks to fantastic support across past awareness campaigns and from the inaugural PanCan Gala, GCF is currently funding 3 clinical trials for pancreatic cancer here in New Zealand. These trials target 3 different sets of patients with the aim of:

  • Preventing pancreatic cancer in high-risk patients

  • Helping patients qualify for surgery and reducing the risk of cancer recurrence

  • Extending life expectancy and improving quality of life for patients with advanced, metastatic pancreatic cancer

But we are only just scratching the surface. GCF is currently inundated with applications for research across all cancers of the digestive system, and we need more support to meet this demand.

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.