Towards individualized treatment for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)

Pancreatic cancer kills almost 5,000 Canadians each year and if progress is not made to improve outcomes, the annual number of deaths will double by 2030. In 80% of patients, the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis, and is not operable. Most of these patients die within one year due to the lack of effective therapies and the fact that clinicians have no clear guidance on which existing treatment option would work best for individual patients.

Precision medicine in cancer has gained a lot of attention in the last decade, as it may provide the best approach to treating tumours on an individual basis. Cancer treatment does not benefit from the one-size-fits-all approach because individual tumours, even if affecting the same organ, are biologically different, which can impact their response to treatment. Tumour subtyping, a method by which scientists identify the unique characteristics of individual tumours, is critical for precision medicine enabling personalized treatment based on the tumour's specific biological traits. Advances in the understanding of cancer subtypes have revolutionized treatment in multiple cancers, but we have yet to uncover pancreatic cancer subtypes that can help with treatment decisions.

Our goal is to define clinically meaningful pancreatic tumour subtypes, and study their impact on tumour aggressiveness and response to treatment. These findings will be rapidly translated to the clinic to have immediate impact on treatment selection for patients. We will perform detailed genetic and molecular analysis of patient tumour samples to investigate the distinct molecular characteristics. The patients will be enrolled in a clinical trial at the BC Cancer Agency and will be provided with detailed and cutting edge analyses of their tumours to help the clinical team guide further therapy decisions. 

Currently, over 90% of diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients are not expected to survive five years. Our program has the potential to dramatically change the trajectory of pancreatic cancer and improve outcomes for thousands of Canadians diagnosed with the disease.