Adding an enzyme to the standard chemotherapeutic regimen for pancreatic cancer nearly doubled overall survival time in a mouse model.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas are highly resistant to chemotherapy, due in part to a unique biologic barrier the tumor builds around itself. In the current study, the research team identified hyaluronan, or hyaluronic acid (HA), as the primary matrix component of these barriers and showed that systemic administration of an enzyme known as PEGPH20 could degrade HA in the tumor barrier.

Working with a genetically engineered mouse model of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the investigators combined the PEGPH20 enzyme with gemcitabine, the current standard chemotherapeutic agent employed to combat such tumors. Use of the enzyme set off a chain of biologic events that ultimately broke down the barrier and allowed high concentrations of chemotherapy to reach the tumor and spread throughout the diseased tissue (Cancer Cell. 2012;21[3]:418-429). The result was a 70% increase in overall survival after the start of treatment, from 55 days to 92 days.

Early clinical trials in humans are under way in the United States and in Russia; visit http://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT01453153 for eligibility and enrollment information.