A new drug developed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center can prevent pancreatic cancer from growing in mice, while staving off resistance to chemotherapy agents commonly used by humans, according to a new study.

The Beverly Grove hospital on Sept. 25 announced the results of the study published in Gastroenterology, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the molecular compound Metavert.

“This is an exciting step toward improving survival rates in pancreatic cancer patients, said Mouad Edderkaoui, assistant professor of medicine and biomedical sciences at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, and lead author of the study.

“If the results are confirmed in humans, we could have a drug with the potential to significantly extend the lives of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which is very difficult to treat.”

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of all cancer deaths in the U.S, according to the American Cancer Society. The five-year survival rate is 7 percent.

Meanwhile, 95 percent of the pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed with PDAC, which develops from cells lining small tubes in the pancreas, leading to the growth of scar tissue that can stymie chemotherapy.

“I’ve seen patients who respond to therapy for a while, and then the disease takes off because the cancer becomes smart – it blocks chemotherapy from working,” said Dr. Stephen J. Pandol, director of basic and translational pancreas research at Cedars-Sinai. “Metavert targets that action.”

Cedars-Sinai researchers found that their synthesized molecule blocked drug resistance and significantly boosted the positive effects of radiation and two chemotherapy agents commonly used by people. It increased the survival rate in mice by about 50 percent.

Metavert was developed at Cedars-Sinai researchers and licensed to Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, an Encinitas-based biotech company founded by Edderkaoui and Pandol. Researchers expect to test it in pancreatic cancer patients in late 2019.

Health business reporter Dana Bartholomew can be reached at dbartholomew@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @_DanaBart.

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