Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death. It is also the 12th most common cancer around the world – 458,918 new cases were diagnosed in 2018. After diagnosis, less than 3% of patients with the metastatic disease survive longer than five years. In addition, early diagnosis of this cancer is rare and difficult, because symptoms don’t generally present until a late stage. Approximately 80% of patients are diagnosed after the disease has metastasized.
“In the history of oncology, there have been only two or three studies that have shown some benefits for pancreatic cancer,” said Prof. Raanan Berger, Head of Oncology at Sheba Medical Center. “This is a very rare breakthrough.”
Dr. Golan’s research offers new hope for patients worldwide with pancreatic cancer, particularly pancreatic adenocarcinoma harboring BRCA mutations. In the clinical trial, more than 3,000 patients were screened, and of them, 154 were randomized and assigned a trial intervention. The results showed that patients who received the POLO trial’s drug treatment did significantly better overall than those who did not receive the drug.
“This treatment [also] exemplifies the advent of ‘precision medicine’ based on a specific genetic biomarker, BRCA 1 & 2,” said Dr. Golan.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins to help repair damaged DNA and preserve the genetic stability of cells. When either one of these genes has a mutation and therefore cannot properly encode the proteins, DNA damage may not be repaired correctly. Consequently, the stability of cells is compromised and the person becomes more likely to develop additional genetic mutations that can cause cancer. Many Ashkenazi Jews are carriers of the BRCA 1 & 2 genes, which typically raises their risks of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
Dr. Golan, a medical oncologist, specializes in gastrointestinal malignancies, and she is also the Director of the Phase I Clinical Trials Unit at Sheba’s Pancreatic Cancer Center. She has earned a world-renowned reputation for her studies in the field of pancreatic cancer. Her current research trials to test new medicine therapies for metastatic pancreatic cancer are being carried out in conjunction with two of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca and MSD (Merck).