SU2C Grant helps UC San Diego to Test Drugs’ Ability to Block Signals Driving Treatment Resistance

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Andrew Lowy, MD, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, is co-lead investigator who is helping lay the groundwork needed to move the discoveries of potential treatment options for pancreatic cancer into clinical trials.

Pancreatic cancer is a rare disease. And it is a deadly disease. Although pancreatic cancer makes up just 3% of all cancer cases in the United States, it is the nation’s third deadliest cancer. This is primarily due to aggressive nature of pancreatic cancer and tendency to spread.

A team of University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers have been awarded a $1 million Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) grant to test drugs that block signals that play a critical role in driving growth and progression of pancreatic cancer.

“In previous work, we identified a group of pancreatic cancer cells that were particularly aggressive and responsible for driving lethality and therapy resistance,” said Tannishtha Reya, Ph.D, UC San Diego professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Medicine and lead investigator.

Photo 1.0: Tannishtha Reya, PhD, UC San Diego professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Medicine, is the lead investigator of a study being funded by a $1-million Stand Up To Cancer grant to test drugs that block signals that play a critical role in driving the growth and progression of pancreatic cancer.

“More recently, we have focused on identifying the key signaling networks that are necessary for the survival of these drug-resistant cells. This award is really critical because it allows us to test whether drugs against these pathways can serve as effective new agents to block pancreatic cancer growth,” Reya added.

Pancreatic Cancer Collective
As part of the newly launched Pancreatic Cancer Collective, the strategic partnership of Lustgarten Foundation and SU2C, the grant will initially fund work in preclinical models and test whether new drugs can be combined with chemotherapy to improve outcomes. The researchers plan to use genetic information to identify biomarkers to predict which patients will respond to the combination approach.

The long-term goal is to lay the groundwork needed to move these discoveries into clinical trials.

Unmet medical need
“Current treatment options for pancreatic cancer have limited response, and most patients will relapse after therapy,” said Andrew Lowy, MD, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and co-lead investigator.

“There is a critical need to identify new therapies that can more effectively block tumor growth and metastasis. Because we will prioritize testing to existing drugs, there is potential to more rapidly develop a new, more effective approach to treating pancreatic cancer,” he added.

Dream team
The award highlights an important collaborative effort between UC San Diego and UC San Francisco where the project will be co-led by Margaret Tempero, MD.

This will allow the team to leverage the collective strengths of both institutions, and means that Lowy and Reya — who were named as members of a SU2C pancreatic cancer “Dream Team” in 2015 — will have access to a larger pool of samples and data for the study.

Pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer can develop from two kinds of cells in the pancreas: exocrine cells that produce enzymes to aid digestion and neuroendocrine cells, which make and release hormones that control body functions, such as air flow through the lungs, heart rate and blood sugar levels in blood. The exocrine type is more common and is usually found at an advanced stage. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), approximately 29% of patients have locally advanced disease and 52% have disease that has already spread.

Currently, surgery is the only potentially curative treatment option, but because disease metastasis is frequent, less than 20% of patients are suitable candidates and even when surgery is successful, it only provides long-term, disease-free survival in approximately 15% of patients.

However, there are no universally agreed guidelines for medical treatment for patients with pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma of the pancreas) who are not candidates for surgery or who have a recurrence of the cancer after surgical resection.

“Pancreatic cancer outcomes remain the worst of all common cancers,” Reya said. “Using what we have learned about what drives pancreatic cancer growth and drug resistance, we hope to offer new treatment options to people living with this disease.”

Previously, in 2015, Reya and Lowy were also named as part of a SU2C “Dream Team” for their work in pancreatic cancer.


Last Editorial Review: November 21, 2018

Featured Image: Andrew Lowy, MD, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, is co-lead investigator who is helping lay the groundwork needed to move these discoveries into clinical trials. Courtesy: 2018 © UC San Diego Health Used with permission. Photo 1.0: Tannishtha Reya, PhD, UC San Diego professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Medicine, is the lead investigator of a study being funded by a $1-million Stand Up To Cancer grant to test drugs that block signals that play a critical role in driving the growth and progression of pancreatic cancer.
Photo Credit / Courtesy: © 2018 UC San Diego Health Used with permission.

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