New precision medicine approach for metastatic pancreatic cancer

A three-year grant has been awarded to Columbia University by the Lustgarten Foundation to fund a phase 1b clinical trial of a precision medicine approach to treat metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Credit: Javier Regueiro/

Currently, the main treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer targets  DNA mutations thought to be driving a patient’s tumor. However, this approach is limited to a small fraction of individuals suffering from the most common forms of the cancer.

For example, only about 15% of individuals with pancreatic ductal carcinoma (PDA) are likely to benefit from these conventional DNA mutation-based therapies and most of those will not respond or will relapse with a drug-resistant from of the disease.

“New approaches to this disease are desperately needed," said Kenneth Olive, principal investigator and Professor of Medicine, Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia University.

Using the new approach, researchers will study the RNA; the tissue-specific copy of a cancer cell’s DNA, rather than the DNA itself.

This will give a much more accurate picture of the genetic programs operating inside a tumor that enable its survival. The patient can then be matched to approved investigational drugs that can inhibit those programs.

In a preliminary test of this approach, which is called OncoTreat, researchers matched at least one drug to patients in 85% of cases.

Andrea Califano, co-leader of the grant, says: "OncoTreat identifies drugs that can invert the activity of a novel class of cryptic cancer targets, called master regulator proteins.” These proteins integrate the effect of individual genomic alterations and make cancer cells impervious to a wide range of perturbations, including those resulting from conventional drug treatment.

By targeting the 'engine room' of the cancer cell, we hope to develop more universal and more effective treatment"

Andrea Califano, co-leader of the Lustgarten Foundation grant

The grant will also be used to fund preclinical studies for the development of drug regimens for PDA patients based on their OncoTreat profile.

The New York-based Lustgarten Foundation is a leading private foundation committed to funding pancreatic cancer research.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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