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Promising Findings in Pancreatic Cancer Study Highlight the Importance of Genetic Sequencing

By May 15, 2019No Comments

Published in Clinical Cancer Research, the study found a small group of patients whose pancreatic cancer carried a rare trait that was potentially treatable with a targeted therapy often used to treat lung cancer. After receiving treatment, those patients’ health improved.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada, with 700 people diagnosed each year in British Columbia alone. Within the next decade, it is poised to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

“Pancreatic cancer often comes with a poor prognosis. With this insight we have reason to be optimistic,” said BC Cancer medical oncologist and clinician-scientist Dr. Daniel Renouf. “After looking into the genetic structure of the pancreatic tumours, in several cases we identified a unique trait that we had seen before in other cancer types that was potentially treatable. In these relatively rare instances, we have seen rapid and remarkable results. This is a breakthrough in terms of the potential of precision medicine for pancreatic cancer.”

Insights gained from genetic sequencing can open the door for innovative and personalized forms of treatment. Without this sequencing, patients like Calvin Sommert, might not be faring as well as he is.

After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2016, the father-of-two found himself with little energy to participate in the outdoor activities he loved. “I felt terrible back then. I had lost about 70 pounds,” says Calvin. “But now I’ve gained some of the weight back and I’m hiking and mountain biking with my family again. My wife and I are looking forward to getting out and camping this summer.”

As part of this study, 47 British Columbians with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) received a full genetic analysis. Of those, the study found that three patients, including Calvin, could receive precision medicine specifically for their tumour type.

“This sequencing technology helps BC Cancer researchers identify new and personalized treatments for cancers that are difficult to treat,” said Dr. Francois Benard, Vice President of Research at BC Cancer. “It is because our researchers were able to look into the entire genetic composition of the participants and their cancers, instead of a limited number of genes, that they found such an effective treatment.”

“The outcomes of this study are a compelling example of how BC Cancer Foundation donors are fueling promising precision medicine treatments and bringing new hope to cancer patients and their families,” said Sarah Roth, president & CEO of BC Cancer Foundation.

These results are made possible by BC Cancer Foundation donors, BC Cancer’s Personalized Oncogenomics (POG) program, and the Terry Fox Research Institute’s Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care (EPPIC) National research program, as well as support from Pancreatic Cancer Canada.