Transatlantic partnership to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer

A US-Ireland partnership involving researchers at Queen's University Belfast has been awarded £2.9m to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer

A US-Ireland partnership involving researchers at Queen's University Belfast has been awarded £2.9m to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer, which is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK.

The grant has been awarded under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. It will bring together world-leading experts in drug delivery and cancer research at Queen's, Dublin City University and the University at Buffalo.

The five-year programme will focus on the development of 'nanomedicine' in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, for which current treatment options are limited. The transatlantic team aim to develop miniscule technology - so tiny that it is invisible to the naked eye - to deliver drugs directly to cancer sites and thereby improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.

Almost 9,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK every year. It has the lowest five-year survival rate of any common cancer and one that has barely improved in 40 years.

In Northern Ireland, during 2009-2013 an average of 220 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed each year. The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed in 2004-2008 was 5%.

Pancreatic cancer is often very advanced by the time it is diagnosed and only 3% of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis. More than 80% of people with the disease are diagnosed when it has already spread, so they are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumour - currently the only potential cure.

This partnership is a unique arrangement involving funding agencies in the USA, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who combine resources to enable the best researchers from Ireland and the USA to work together on research to address critical issues and generate valuable discoveries that will impact on patient care.

Queen's University Professor Christopher Scott, Director of Research, Molecular Therapeutics Cluster in the School of Pharmacy, who is leading the project, said: "Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK. Many chemotherapies could be more effective, and induce fewer side effects, if they could access the tumour more easily; this is what we aim to examine in this project. By working in partnership with researchers in New York and Dublin it will allow us to generate valuable discoveries and innovations which can move our work out of the laboratory and towards clinical trials.

"This is another example of the commitment of researchers and staff at Queen's to advancing knowledge and changing lives."

Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency's HSC R&D Division, which is funding the Northern Ireland part of this project with support from the Medical Research Council, said: "We are delighted to be funding this project which will tackle an important area around drug delivery in pancreatic cancer which we know is a difficult disease to treat. We expect that the outcomes from this international research will lead to significant advances in the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer in the UK, Ireland and beyond."


For further information please contact Queen's University Communications Officers Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) on 028 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) on 028 9097 5310 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

Additional quotes:

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Robert O'Connor, from DCU said:

"This type of collaborative research will have very significant impact on our efforts to overcome cancer. Indeed, overall rates of survival from cancer are increasing by 1% per year. However, nearly 340,000 people die from pancreatic cancer globally each year, a figure that has remains stubbornly high despite advances in the treatment of other malignancies.

We are therefore delighted with the news of this award which brings together complementary expertise in cancer research from three different nationally-leading laboratories focussing on developing new strategies to specifically improve the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

The work also showcases the close ongoing relationship between doctors diagnosing and treating cancer and scientists developing new strategies to help patients. We hope that success in this work will encourage further investment in pancreatic cancer research and result in better outcomes for patients in Ireland, the US and globally."

Prof Bob Straubinger from the University at Buffalo's School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences said:

"This international research effort was funded after receiving high marks in a very competitive review process by cancer experts at the US NIH. I think several factors entered into the decision. One is the panel recognised the very high quality of research going on at our institutions, and that over the past several years, our international team has developed some well-thought and novel ideas that integrate what each of us do best.

The most important factor was that the review panel concluded that the studies address a significant issue in pancreatic cancer and propose an important and novel idea that looks promising, with potential high impact on pancreatic cancer therapy."