An investigational drug that disrupts tumor blood vessels shows promise against a rare type of pancreatic cancer, according to results presented at the AACR-NCI-EORT International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston, Massachusetts.

The drug fosbretabulin selectively targets and collapses tumor blood vessels, depriving the tumor of oxygen and making its cells die. In experiments involving a mouse model of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, found that infusing mice with fosbretabulin three times per week for 4 weeks resulted in significant antitumor activity compared with control mice given a placebo.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in more than 45,000 Americans in 2013 and more than 38,000 will die of the disease. Exocrine pancreatic cancer, the more common and usually fatal type, begins in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. This study involved endocrine pancreatic cancer—the much less common and more curable form of the disease that originates in pancreatic cells that make hormones (and that caused the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs).

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All the mice in the study had insulinomas—endocrine tumors that form in pancreatic cells that make insulin, the hormone that controls glucose levels in the blood. This type of tumor can make the pancreas over-secrete insulin. The researchers found that treating the mice with fosbretabulin caused a significant and sustained decrease in circulating insulin and also significantly reduced tumor size.

Fosbretabulin has been evaluated in clinical trials involving patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer, a highly aggressive cancer for which there are no approved treatments. The drug is made by OXiGENE, Inc, a biotech company based in San Francisco, California.