According to Dr. Olive, pancreatic tumors build protective walls around themselves that prevent chemotherapy from getting into the tumor. IPI-926 works by inhibiting a tumor’s ability to build and maintain that wall. With this wall weakened, already existing therapies could prove much more effective, doing more damage to the cancer and less to the patient. If it turns out that other cancers behave in a similar manner, IPI-926 could potentially improve the outcomes of tens of thousands of cancer patients around the world — which explains the excitement that the latest developments in IPI-926 research generated when presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in early June.
An early trial designed primarily to test the toxicity of IPI-926 in combination with gemcitabine (the national standard-of-care treatment for pancreatic cancer) found a very positive early outcome. In this Phase I-b trial, 31% of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer had partial responses after treatment with IPI-926 + gemcitabine, which compares favorably with the historical rate of 5% in patients treated with gemcitabine alone. Even more notably, the regimen was extremely well-tolerated with very little additional toxicity over gemcitabine alone.
With these early promising results, Infinity Pharmaceuticals, the company behind the IPI-926 research, is now conducting a larger Phase II trial across 29 institutions to further evaluate the drug’s efficacy. M. Wasif Saif, MD, MBBS, and Dr. Olive are directing the NYP/Columbia arm of this 118-patient, randomized, double-blind trial.
It’s still too early to say what the results of this important study will be, but Dr. Olive believes that the level of hope in the pancreatic cancer research field is higher than it has been in many years. Pancreatic cancer outcomes have scarcely improved in the past 40 years — but that may soon change, he says. “This is an extremely dynamic and exciting time in pancreatic cancer research. There is so much happening right now, and this is one example. There are many other investigative drugs working their way through research pipeline and into the clinical trial process. My level of hope and enthusiasm for a breakthrough in pancreatic cancer is tremendously elevated. We are starting to make inroads against this devastating disease, which has not been true for decades.”