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Home » Innovations » Transforming Canadian Health Care » Investigating Personalized Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer
Dr. Jennifer Knox

Dr. Jennifer Knox

Principal Investigator, PASS-01

Michelle Capobianco

Michelle Capobianco

CEO, Pancreatic Cancer Canada

Now underway in leading cancer centres across North America, the PASS-01 trial aims to improve survival rates and give patients more time through personalized treatments.

Pancreatic is one of the world’s toughest cancers. The five-year net survival rate is just 10 per cent, according to the latest Canadian Cancer Statistics. Having the lowest survival rate of all major cancers underscores the urgency around current efforts to help pancreatic cancer patients live longer.

At the forefront of this movement is Pancreatic Cancer Canada, a progressive organization focused on improving survival rates through investments in innovative research, raising awareness of the disease among the public and health-care professionals, and supporting patients and their families with specialized services and resources at every stage. This level of dedication is how real change can happen.


Treatments tap into the power of personalized medicine

Pancreatic Cancer Canada’s research initiatives include exploring how a tumour’s unique genomic profile can advance personalized medicine and give patients better treatment options. To tackle pancreatic cancer more effectively, physicians will benefit from a greater knowledge of the different subtypes of the disease to understand which treatments will work best for a patient.

Maximizing the potential of personalized medicine for those with pancreatic cancer is the goal of the PASS-01 clinic trial, now underway at cancer centres in Canada and the United States. PASS-01 is using cutting-edge technology that’s shaping the future of pancreatic cancer research.

“We’ve brought together some of the finest pancreatic cancer researchers in North America,” says Dr. Jennifer Knox, Principal Investigator, PASS-01. “The time is right to dig in much deeper to help understand pancreatic cancer. We need to stop assuming one size fits all and instead advance the field by gaining a better understanding of every tumour.”

Bold new directions in research

The PASS-01 trial is using genomic analysis and organoid technology to help predict how a pancreatic cancer patient will respond to various standard and novel treatments based on the biomarkers of their tumour. Key to this are the organoid models, which use a patient’s own cancer cells to make tumour “avatars.”

Researchers use these “avatars” to test more than 100 treatments at the same time to quickly discover which ones will be the most effective for that specific patient. Pancreatic cancer is fast-moving, so this expedited approach is already proving to be helpful for making the best treatment decisions.

“PASS-01 is leading the field of personalized medicine for pancreatic cancer, working to get the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” says Michelle Capobianco, Chief Executive Officer of Pancreatic Cancer Canada. “This research and the innovations that will stem from it will help us give patients and their loved ones what they want most: time.”

Dr. Knox has seen firsthand the positive impact highly targeted, personalized treatments can have on many patients with pancreatic cancer. “One good example is a man who was benefitting from the chemotherapy,” she says. “It was working modestly, but he was having a lot of side effects and was reluctant to continue. The tumour model (organoid) we grew from his cancer suggested that a different drug combination might be more effective. We switched it over and suddenly he tolerates the chemotherapy much better, and we see a better response with more shrinkage of his cancer.”

She notes that, outside of the PASS-01 study, this type of information to tailor his treatment wouldn’t have been possible. With funding support and dedicated researchers, better outcomes will be within reach for pancreatic cancer patients.

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