The Gut Cancer Foundation is delighted to announce a grant of $81,000 to help New Zealanders with advanced pancreatic cancer access a new clinical trial in 2022.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates of any major cancer. One of the major reasons is that symptoms are often very mild and can be easily missed or ignored. This results in most patients being diagnosed at an advanced stage, where the only curative option of surgery is no longer possible.

Unfortunately, patients with newly diagnosed advanced pancreatic cancer have limited treatment options. Chemotherapy options include FOLFIRINOX and gemcitabine with or without nab-paclitaxel. FOLFIRINOX is an effective treatment and funded in New Zealand, but unfortunately not all patients are well enough to handle its high rates of side effects. Gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel is an alternative option for these patients but sadly, this is not a viable option for many New Zealanders due to the lack of PHARMAC funding for nab-paclitaxel. As a result, treatment options are limited for our cancer patients.

Even with access to current treatments there is a huge room for improvement given that the average survival for this group of patients is less than 12 months. To improve outcomes for patients with newly diagnosed advanced pancreas cancer, the Australian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group (AGITG) has developed and sponsored the ASCEND clinical trial.

GCF spokesperson and Scientific Advisory Committee member, Dr Sharon Pattison explains;

“Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the cancers where it is difficult to get chemotherapy drugs into the environment that the cancer cells exist in, the tumour microenvironment. This is reflected in the limited response some patients with pancreatic cancer get from chemotherapy, and the poor survival from pancreatic cancer.

CEND-1 is a new type of drug that helps small molecules, like chemotherapy drugs, get from the blood stream into cancer cells, without increasing the amount of chemotherapy drug that is taken up by normal cells. The ASCEND clinical trial is investigating whether adding CEND-1 to chemotherapy will improve survival of people with pancreatic cancer by increasing the efficacy of the chemotherapy.

As a scientist and doctor who treats people with pancreatic cancer, I am really excited by the science behind CEND-1 and by the opportunity to soon be able to offer this clinical trial to patients.  Without Gut Cancer Foundation supporters, we would not have the opportunity to participate in this important trial in New Zealand.”

For participating patients in New Zealand, this trial will have significant dual benefits. Thanks to the support of CEND Therapeutics, every one of the 19 New Zealanders that access this trial will be given the international standard of care treatment gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel, a treatment option that is not funded in New Zealand. In addition, two-thirds of the patients will receive CEND-1 as part of the investigation into whether this new agent improves the delivery of their chemotherapy treatment.

Gut Cancer Foundation Executive Officer Liam Willis says:

“We are delighted to give Kiwis the opportunity to access this vital clinical trial. Sadly, outcomes for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer are very poor and haven’t changed significantly for many years. Although it’s early days the initial indications are that CEND-1 could be a really exciting development in the treatment of this group”

“Bringing international clinical trials home to New Zealanders is a key pillar of the Gut Cancer Foundation’s strategy. The fact that in this instance, we can help to support this vital research whilst simultaneously giving New Zealanders access to an unfunded treatment is deeply gratifying. Our thanks go to all of our wonderful supporters who made this funding possible.”

“Because of the way clinical trials are funded, not all the money available to Australian clinicians could be accessed here in New Zealand. This left a significant gap in funding that could have meant New Zealanders missed out on the chance to participate in this trial. Thanks to the generosity of Gut Cancer Foundation supporters, we have been able to bridge this gap and provide funding for 19 patients across 3 sites in New Zealand; Auckland, Waikato, and Dunedin.”

Despite fantastic support from Gut Cancer Foundation donors, event cancellations and postponements due to COVID means more funds are needed to ensure 19 New Zealanders can access the trial. The Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, the Gut Cancer Foundation aim to raise the additional $30,000 needed to meet the costs of 7 places on the ASCEND trial.

Lead investigator in NZ, Dr Jane So from the Auckland Hospital Cancer and Blood Centre said:

“We know that having access to clinical trials will improve outcomes for our cancer patients. Gut Cancer Foundation funding has been crucial in enabling our site to take part in ASCEND clinical trial. We are excited to be able to offer more treatment options for our patients with newly diagnosed advanced pancreas cancer”.

As with all clinical trials the criterion for recruitment is restricted and selective. The ASCEND trial will begin recruiting New Zealand patients in 2022 and anyone interested in finding out more should discuss it with their specialist.