A Big Investment to Change the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Treatment Paradigm

Medical research is extremely expensive and investigators and scientists are often in an endless battle for limited funding dollars. And while on the surface it seems that cancer research is well funded, these research dollars aren't distributed evenly. Some deadly forms of the disease get shortchanged, like pancreatic cancer.

The average relative one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is around 20 percent and the five-year relative survival rate of just 8 percent. It kills more Americans every year than prostate and melanoma cancer combined. 

Given the lack of public funding dollars available, those who have been impacted by pancreatic cancer work overtime to bring more private funders on board. Another unfortunate side effect of the scarcity of funding here is a lack of comprehensive information available. This lack of information is what Pamela Acosta Marquardt faced when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1996 and it’s also what led her to cofound the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) in 1999.

Related: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: Grants for Disease

PanCan has since grown to pull in over $35 million in revenue and has landed monster donations like the $15 million gift the organization received from Skip Viragh, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2003. PanCan is also making some pretty big moves on its own. One of its latest is a four-year, $35 million investment (not including drug costs) in Precision Promise.

Precision Promise is collaborative effort, bringing together researchers, clinicians, genomic experts, and drug developers in the “first large-scale precision medicine trial for pancreatic cancer,” and it expected to enroll thousands of patients in the coming years. Initially, the program is working across 12 Clinical Trial Consortium Sites located within universities, medical centers, and cancer centers around the United States such as the University of Michigan, the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

The initiative has a handful of working groups focusing their initial attentions on specific areas of study such DNA damage repair, stromal disruption, and immunotherapy. Additional working groups include one for supportive care and an industry working group with Halozyme Therapeutics, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Tempus and Trovagene being initial patrons.

In a press release last fall, Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of PanCan said, “Precision Promise will dramatically accelerate the clinical trial process to bring promising therapies to patients faster.” Fleshman went on to say that “Instead of looking for the right patient for a clinical trial, we are designing the right clinical trial for each patient.” Its plan for designing the right trial for each patient is through what it refers to as sub-studies. These sub-studies are designed to be flexible, allowing participating patients to quickly move between treatment options with relative ease and will be in a state of constant evolution by “integrating current research and the most up-to-date science and knowledge available.” While Precision Promise is beginning with just 12 Consortium Sites, the hope is to bring the entire pancreatic cancer scientific and medical communities on board.

Related: Why Millions in New Research Grants Are Flowing for a Deadly But Overlooked Cancer

Aside from launching ambitious efforts such as Precision Promise, PanCan runs a number of outreach and support programs. It also invests a good deal money in research.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network launched its Research Grants program in 2003. Since then, the organization has awarded over 140 grants totaling more than $35 million. A few months ago, PanCan announced its 2017 investments of $13 million in research grants and internal initiatives—which is a pretty big jump compared to the $9.7 million it spent in 2016.

PanCan’s overall mission is to not only advance research, but support pancreatic cancer suffers and those affected by pancreatic cancer. Its vision is to double the number of people surviving pancreatic cancer by 2020.