AACR Pathway to Leadership Grants Awarded to Early-Career Investigators

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March 17, 2011



MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – (March 17, 2011) -- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Career Development Award recipient and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute radiation oncologist, Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, led the research team that found that an existing drug for malaria may have some therapeutic payoffs for pancreatic cancer patients. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and has the lowest survival rate of any major cancer. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is committed to changing these statistics, and has recently launched a bold new goal to double the survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients by 2020.

“A potential new course of treatment for pancreatic cancer patients is a very significant development for our community. Currently, there are very few effective treatments and as a result, the five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is just six percent,” stated Julie Fleshman, President and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “We are proud to support Dr. Kimmelman’s laboratory and salute him and his team for their efforts in the fight against this deadly disease.”

Dr. Kimmelman and his colleagues discovered that chloroquine, a drug routinely used to treat malaria, may also be effective in treating pancreatic cancer. Chloroquine acts by inhibiting a process called autophagy. Normally, autophagy takes place when cells are faced with extreme, stressful conditions, and therefore lack nutrients. Autophagy allows the internal cellular proteins to be engulfed and utilized as a source of nutrition and energy. Although autophagy has previously been shown to be a survival mechanism for some cancer cells, Dr. Kimmelman and colleagues were surprised to observe that the autophagy process is constantly active in pancreatic cancer cells, regardless of the availability of other nutrients. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that employing a drug like chloroquine, known to block autophagy, could show promising results in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Encouragingly, Dr. Kimmelman and colleagues’ work has suggested that chloroquine, and its derivative hydroxychloroquine, can effectively treat pancreatic cancer in a mouse model that closely mimics human disease. These results will be published in the April print edition of the prestigious scientific journal, Genes and Development, and are currently available on the journal’s website.

Dr. Kimmelman points out that, “We are seeing robust and impressive responses in pancreatic cancer mouse models. Because chloroquine and its derivative hydroxychloroquine have already been approved as treatments for malaria and rheumatologic diseases for many years, we know that they are very well tolerated in patients as well as inexpensive.”

“Dr. Kimmelman’s results are very encouraging for the pancreatic cancer research community, and all those affected by this disease,” Fleshman added. “This study may represent a significant step towards better treatment options for patients. However, it is important to note that these promising results have so far only been observed in mice. Rigorous testing in human clinical trials will be necessary before conclusions are drawn.” At least two clinical trials are already underway to examine chloroquine as a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network encourages all patients to consider clinical trials when exploring treatment options. In order to assist interested patients in locating applicable clinical trial options, the organization’s Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) Associates conduct personalized clinical trial searches based on each patient’s specific diagnosis, treatment history, geographical location, and willingness to travel. PALS Associates use the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s comprehensive, up-to-date database of IRB-approved pancreatic cancer-specific clinical trials taking place nationwide to locate potential trials for the patient. Patients are strongly encouraged to take trial information to their physicians for treatment advice.

About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is the national organization creating hope in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure. The organization is leading the way to increase the survival rate for people diagnosed with this devastating disease through a bold initiative–The Vision of Progress: Double the Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rate by 2020. Together, we can know, fight and end pancreatic cancer by intensifying our efforts to heighten awareness, raise funds for comprehensive private research, and advocate for dedicated federal research to advance early diagnostics, better treatments and increase chances of survival.


Jennifer Rosen
Senior Manager, Public Relations
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Direct: 310-706-3362


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