Pancreatic cancer remains a devastating diagnosis that is incurable in most patients, killing ~50,000 Americans per year. Treatment options including newer immunotherapy approaches are notoriously ineffective. These grim numbers motivate the search for a new strategy called “interception” that might prevent pancreatic cancer altogether. Interception seeks to target the earliest events in the progression of normal pancreas cells into invasive cancer. While this progression spans over a decade, no interception options currently exist.
We have identified a compelling target for interception. This protein is responsible for maintaining the normal identity of pancreas cells, and its activity diminishes as cells progress to cancer. Furthermore, studies comparing thousands of individuals with or without pancreatic cancer have found that this protein impacts risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Lastly, our team has developed potent drugs that can modulate the activity of this protein.
Our goal in this proposal is to pioneer an interception strategy by pharmacologically boosting activity of this protein to prevent progression of normal pancreas cells into cancer. We will characterize the mechanisms and impacts of these new drugs in mouse models of pancreatic cancer as well as in human specimens. Our studies will lay groundwork for clinical trials of interception to prevent pancreatic cancer altogether. Pancreatic cancer interception can also help address issues of psychological trauma associated with diagnosis and unequal access to treatment. Like taking aspirin to prevent heart disease before it happens, we envision these new drugs will be transformative in the fight to end pancreatic cancer.