This Drug Combination Could Mean New Hope for Battling Pancreatic Cancer


About 50,000 people die in the U.S. each year from pancreatic cancer, including Jeopardy host Alex Trebek. As anyone who’s lost a loved one to the disease knows, the prognosis is generally not good. In 2019, the five-year survival rate in the U.S. was just 8.5%.

New treatments, and a way to catch and diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, are sorely needed.

In a new paper, Professor Ghada Soliman of the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and co-authors discuss preliminary research on a new drug combination that may have potential for battling the disease.

Their research appears in Current Developments in Nutrition.

The work centers around an enzyme in our bodies called mTOR. It’s responsible for taking in information from energy levels, nutrients, and growth signals in order to coordinate cell growth and nutrient metabolism. Scientists also know that the mTOR enzyme is impaired in people with type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Because of this, the researchers wondered if a combination of two drugs—an antidiabetic drug called metformin and a drug that inhibits mTOR—could team up to fight pancreatic cancer.

Testing this idea on mice, the researchers saw decreases in both tumor weight and volume. What’s more, using the two drugs together led to greater tumor reduction than either drug alone. The researchers hope that this “synergism” means a lower dose of both drugs could be effective. Their work also suggests that changes in mTOR signaling might viable as an early diagnostic marker for pancreatic cancer.

“The combination of inhibiting the mTOR pathway and using an antidiabetic drug might be helpful as a therapeutic intervention, pending randomized control trials,” Soliman said.

Additionally, the work gives the researchers some insight into the mechanisms of the mTOR pathway and how it affects metabolism, which could help with understanding and developing interventions for diseases like diabetes.

Beyond SUM

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Ghada Soliman (Associated Professor, Nutrition) | Profile 1