On September 6, 2013 the FDA approved a new indication for the formidable pancreatic cancer drug Paclitaxel. Known as the brand name Abraxane, which is marketed by Celgene, Paclitaxel is now officially indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Paclitaxel will be used in a combination treatment, alongside Gemcitabine, to treat unresectable adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. This news comes as a promise of new hope for the roughly 45,000 American patients who are diagnosed with this virulent disease each year. Of the patients diagnosed, a little over 38,000 of these people will not survive. With such grim statistics the advent of this new indication for Paclitaxel is especially encouraging, particularly for these patients who are at the end stages of pancreatic cancer.
As the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, incurable pancreatic cancer has taken the lives of many Americans, most notably Apple guru Steve Jobs. Studies offered hopeful data for the patient population suffering from metastatic pancreatic cancer. With the average time given to patients with advanced pancreatic cancer being less than six months to live, a main clinical trial of Paclitaxel indicated significantly better statistics. Of the patients who received both Paclitaxel and Gemcitabine in the main clinical trial they lived an average of eight and a half months. Compared to a little over six and a half months of life for the patients who were administered Gemcitabine only, these extra two months were undoubtedly a gift for these patients.
Paclitaxel is believed to work by binding in tiny particles to the human protein albumin. This bond subsequently enhances the delivery of Paclitaxel to the tumor site, which also reduces prolonged adverse effects. There are side effects from treatment with Paclitaxel, however, and these may include a slight risk of a severe bacterial bloodstream infection or inflammation of the lung. Typical side effects include hair loss, exhaustion, joint pain and neuropathy. Researchers and the medical community are enthusiastic about this new indication for Paclitaxel, which is already approved to treat both breast and non-small cell lung cancer. Despite the small risk for adverse reactions, Paclitaxel remains a worthy opponent for treating patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer, and it is looking like it may be the next standard of care treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer as well.
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