Enzyme inhibitor spurs breakthrough on pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has long been known as one of the deadliest and most frustrating cancers to treat--a virtual death sentence for anyone who gets it. Only 13 percent of patients survive a year following diagnosis. Now, in a first, researchers say that they have solid proof that inhibiting the TAK-1 enzyme sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells and leaves them vulnerable to chemotherapy.

Dr. Davide Melisi, who recently moved from M.D. Anderson Center in Houston to the National Cancer Institute in Naples, Italy, told a cancer conference in Berlin that investigators developed a drug that inhibited TAK-1 and then tested it on mice in combination with chemotherapy. By itself, the classic chemo drug gemcitabine was useless in stopping pancreatic cancer, but the researchers said that in combination with the TAK-1 inhibitor they were able to reduce tumor size in mice by 78 percent.

"The use of this TAK-1 inhibitor increased the sensitivity of pancreatic cells to all three chemotherapeutic drugs," says Dr. Melisi. "By combining it with classic anti-cancer drugs, we were able to use doses of drugs up to 70 times lower in comparison with the control to kill the same number of cancer cells. In mice, we were able to reduce significantly the tumour volume, to prolong the mice survival, and to reduce the toxicity by combining the TAK-1 inhibitor with very low doses of a classic chemotherapeutic drug, gemcitabine, that would have been ineffective otherwise."

"The TAK-1 inhibitor used in this study is an exciting drug that warrants further development for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. In the near future, we will study whether it is also able to make other chemotherapeutic agents, such as oxaliplatin, 5-FU or irinotecan, work against pancreatic cancer in mice." 

- check out the press release