Dr. Talia Golan, the director of the Sheba Pancreatic Cancer Center, has made an exciting breakthrough in the search for an effective treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer. Although years of effort and significant resources have been devoted to the illness, very few studies thus far have shown progress in finding a suitable treatment for this type of cancer. The recent development is a rare and most welcome advancement in the ongoing global fight against the disease.
With close to 500,000 new cases in a single year, pancreatic cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. Not even three percent of those who contract metastatic pancreatic cancer survive more than five years post-diagnosis, making it the fourth deadliest cancer.
Sheba Medical Center Oncology Institute Director Dr. Raanan Berger is particularly excited about Dr. Golan’s research. He said that there have been only a couple of studies on pancreatic cancer that have demonstrated any progress ever.
Dr. Golan centered her research on the assessment of the safety and efficiency of a new drug treatment called POLO (Pancreas cancer OLaparib Ongoing) for pancreatic cancer in individuals carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation. These mutations are mostly found in Ashkenazi Jews and are what makes them particularly vulnerable to ovarian and breast cancers. Dr. Golan said that the POLO treatment is the manifestation of the introduction of “precision medicine” by using Lynparza, which was created based on the specific genetic biomarkers BRCA1 and BRCA2.
The BRCA Mutation and Lynparza
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that play a vital role in keeping cells genetically stable and in producing proteins that repair damaged DNA. When one or both of these genes mutate, the protein is either not produced or does not function correctly, making the cells unstable. In an earlier Sheba Medical Center study in 2015, Lynparza, also known as olaparib, was found to inhibit the poly ADP ribose polymerase enzyme and thus to be beneficial to patients with the BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic mutations as well as pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
Sharing Impressive Results with the World
Over 3,000 patients across the globe were screened for the treatment. Of these potential patients, 154 were selected to undergo a trial intervention. Patients who received a single round of chemotherapy and several subsequent olaparib treatments were found to have a significantly faster response rate.
Dr. Golan’s findings were presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) at its annual conference in June 2019 and were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.