Israeli scientists have developed a targeted pancreatic cancer therapy for people who carry the BRCA genetic mutation .
The breakthrough will be of interest to Jewish communities around the world, because about one-in-40 people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage have a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, compared to one-in-800 of the general population.
While trials are ongoing, the new drug in question is called Lynparza (olaparib), which has been shown to treat a specific type of metastatic pancreatic cancer in people who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
Leading the studies has been Dr Talia Golan, head of the Sheba Medical Center Pancreatic Cancer Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital, whose team has been working with pharmaceutical giants Astrazeneca and MSD (Merck). She said the drug, which is taken as tablets, was an important example of a new breed of “precision medicine based on a specific genetic bio-marker,” those being BRCA1 and BRCA2 in this case.
There were almost 460,000 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed last year, making it the 12th most common cancer worldwide. It is also one of the most deadly – currently less than three percent of metastatic pancreatic cancer sufferers survive more than five years after diagnosis. Often there are no symptoms until it is too late, meaning early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult. Four in every five patients are diagnosed at the metastatic stage.
The new drug was tested on patients who had already undergone chemotherapy and scientists said on Monday that the latest Phase 3 trials showed that the drug nearly doubled the amount of time a patient lived without the disease progressing.
The results were announced at the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“This drug provides tremendous hope for patients who have pancreatic cancer,” said Golan, a world expert who works with British olim Dr Yaacov Richard Lawrence, a senior physician in radiation oncology. “When we saw the results were positive, it really was an exceptional and phenomenal moment.”