Abraxane plus Gemzar Combination Improves Pancreatic Cancer Survival

A new drug combination is offering hope to people with a deadly form of pancreatic cancer. Over the past decade, pancreatic cancer death rates have been slowly increasing among Americans, in contrast to the downward trend among other cancer types, including lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Most pancreatic cancer patients are not diagnosed until their cancer is already advanced, and most do not survive longer than 1 year. However, researchers are taking up the challenge to find new methods of prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Researchers in Arizona and their colleagues have found that adding Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) to a standard chemotherapy treatment helped people with advanced pancreatic cancer live longer. Gemzar (gemcitabine) is the chemo drug used most often to treat pancreatic cancer. It’s now been shown that adding Abraxane significantly improved survival.

“This is a major breakthrough, but there is more work to be done,” said Ramesh Ramanathan, MD, one of the co-authors of the study, “Building on these results, we are evaluating new targeted agents in combination with the Abraxane-gemcitabine regimen.”

Researchers studied Abraxane in 861 pancreatic cancer patients in 11 countries by giving half of them Abraxane and Gemzar, and half of them Gemzar alone. The rate of survival was significantly higher in the Abrazane-Gemzar group. Members of that group lived an average 1.8 months longer than those who received Gemzar alone. It also took an average of 1.8 months longer for their cancer to get worse.

In addition, 35% of patients who received Abraxane lived for more than 1 year, compared to 22% who received Gemzar alone. And 9% who received Abraxane lived for more than 2 years, compared to 4% who received Gemzar alone.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Abraxane on Sept. 6, 2013 to treat patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. It was already on the market at that time for treating advanced breast and lung cancers. The drug was evaluated through the FDA’s priority review program, a way to speed up the approval process. Approval was based on the study before it was published Oct. 16, 2013 in New England Journal of Medicine.

Abraxane works by interfering with the ability of cancer cells to divide. Gemzar works by preventing cells from making DNA and RNA, which stops cell growth and causes the cells to die.

Common side effects experienced by people taking Abraxane plus Gemzar included a decrease in infection-fighting white blood cells, a low level of platelets in the blood, fatigue, nerve damage in the arms and legs, nausea, hair loss, tissue swelling, diarrhea, fever, rash, dehydration, and pneumonia. Serious side effects that were not common included bacterial infection of the blood stream and inflammation of the lung tissue.

Abraxane is marketed by Celgene and Gemzar is marketed by Eli Lilly.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Increased Survival in Pancreatic Cancer with nab-Paclitaxel plus Gemcitabine. Published Oct. 16, 2013 in New England Journal of Medicine. First author Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, Translational Genomics Research Institute, Phoenix Ariz., and Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, Ariz.

American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.