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Masonic Cancer Center researchers develop drug to destroy pancreatic cancer cells

Research led by Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., shows the potential of the new drug Minnelide to treat pancreatic cancer. (Photo: Scott Streble)

A drug created by researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota may hold the answer to defeating pancreatic cancer, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine in October.

The compound, dubbed “Minnelide,” is a type of injectable chemotherapy designed to target tumor cells. It works by inhibiting the heat shock protein (hSP) 70, which protects cells — even tumor cells — from dying. By inhibiting that protein, Minnelide disperses the cells integral to tumor growth, and the cancer disintegrates.

Historically, pancreatic cancer has been extremely difficult to treat. More than 44,000 Americans are diagnosed each year, and almost as many will die. It’s hard to catch early, and there’s no good therapy.

In preclinical tests at the University, mice implanted with human pancreatic cancer cells lived a median of 36 days, but infected mice treated with Minnelide lived a median of more than 390 days.

Lead researcher and Masonic Cancer Center member Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., and his team hope these success rates will be carried over to human patients. Clinical trials are currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but could begin later this year.

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