Australians punching above their weight on World Pancreatic Cancer Day!

World Pancreatic Cancer Day (WPCD) is a global initiative to unite and “Demand Better” in the fight against the world’s toughest cancer. But what is it that makes this cancer so ‘tough’ and what is being done?

Leading medical oncologist in the field Prof. David Goldstein, and recent recipient of the NSW Premier’s Cancer Research ‘Make a Difference’ Award, has dedicated much of his career to Pancreatic Cancer research. He explains, “Pancreatic Cancer is unique as it develops in a tough environment, and the cancer itself becomes resilient, impervious to standard, immune and targeted therapies. This, combined with the often late detection and 6-12month life expectancy, can make clinical trials difficult to deliver.”

“Treatment advances require patience and patients. Advancements over the past 15 years have occurred due to not only the persistence of cancer researchers but also the willingness of patients to undergo treatment of potential new therapies in clinical trials.

In this regard, Australians have always punched above their weight when it comes to participation in clinical trials. As a consequence Australian clinicians and researchers have been able to contribute and remain at the forefront of pancreatic cancer research globally.”

The strength of the GI Cancer Institute’s national network, which provides access to trials for patients across the country and enables collaborative learning, has greatly assisted in the progress being made.

Progress such as the new emerging results from the recent ‘GAP’ clinical trial. This research indicates that pancreatic cancer patients are benefiting from pre-operative chemotherapy treatment, which has resulted in more patients receiving prevention chemotherapy than is possible in the post-operative setting. Equally important, this research (led by Prof. Goldstein & Assoc. Prof. Andrew Barbour) showed that the delay in potentially curative surgery did not compromise outcomes, which had been a concern to surgeons and patients. We can now build upon this with even more novel pre-surgical approaches.

Dr. Lorraine Chantrill, a medical oncologist with a focus on Pancreatic Cancer research and GI Cancer Institute Board Member, is leading the way in using genomics to better understand this cancer. She will be the Principal Investigator for a new AGITG Pancreatic Cancer clinical trial called PA.7, which has just been announced and is a first of its kind.

“This is an exciting development for pancreas cancer,” said Dr Lorraine Chantrill “Finally we will be able to offer our patients immunotherapy in a large national academic trial in Australia. The purpose of the PA.7 trial is to compare the effect on pancreatic cancer of adding two new immunotherapy drugs durvalumab and tremelimumab to standard chemotherapy.”

This latest and much anticipated research is being run in collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and has just been confirmed to roll out across Australia by mid-2018.

Dr Chantrill explains, “With only a 7% five-year survival rate overall for Pancreatic Cancer a focused and determined effort is needed to improve the outcomes for those diagnosed. The GI Cancer Institute’s new cutting edge research is making progress through developing better and more targeted treatments to improve survival and quality of life for patients.

As part of my medical practice, every day, I see families affected by Pancreatic Cancer” she says “I have been participating in clinical trials to find a better way to treat my patients and I seek to honour a promise I have made to those I have treated to do whatever I can to improve the life expectancy.”