Dr Sean Porazinski, Senior Research Officer at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research will investigate a potential new way to improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer using a molecule that can block the heightened signalling of cancer cells, thanks to a $300,000 grant from The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation (PanKind).
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in Australia, with few effective treatment options for patients. During its development, abnormal cells in the pancreas grow out of control to form a tumour.
“Our research has demonstrated the desperate need for personalised treatment approaches, as the commonly used ‘one-drug-fits-all-patients’ strategy is ineffective, extending patient life by only months,” says Dr Porazinski.
The project team, led by Associate Professor Marina Pajic and in collaboration with RedX Pharma, identified a small molecule inhibitor that can reduce tumour growth in animal models by blocking a tumour-promoting protein called porcupine.
They have demonstrated that the porcupine-targeting molecule can change the dense environment around the tumours to limit the cancer cell’s ability to hide from the immune system, suggesting it could be used to make immunotherapy more effective in attacking tumours.
Using state-of-the-art advanced microscopes within the newly established ACRF INCITe centre at Garvan, the team will perform real-time imaging to discover whether the compound can also block the ability of the cancer cells to spread outside of the tumour, a process known as metastasis, which makes cancers more lethal.
Thanks to the support from PanKind Foundation, the team will apply their promising results to investigate whether short bursts of this new targeted therapy can boost effectiveness of chemotherapy for pancreatic tumours, improving patient outcomes while limiting side effects of treatment.
“We will now investigate when and how this therapy might best render the tumour weaker, for chemotherapies to work best. We will also test whether this targeted therapy can turn the patient’s immune system on to fight pancreatic cancer,” Dr Porazinski says.
In a statement, PanKind CEO Michelle Stewart said, “We are extremely proud and delighted to be supporting these very talented project teams. Progressing research into new and effective treatments is key to improving patient outcomes.”
If successful, the research could directly inform future phase 2 clinical trials of combined treatment approaches using the porcupine-targeting molecule and standard-of-care chemotherapies and immunotherapy.
This project was made possible by a grant from PanKind, The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
Dr Porazinski is a Conjoint Lecturer, St Vincent's Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW.
Associate Professor Pajic is Co-Head of the Precision Cancer Medicine Program and Head of Personalised Cancer Therapeutics Lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and a Conjoint Associate Professor, St Vincent's Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney.