Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center is testing the safety and effectiveness of a drug that, when combined with chemotherapy, may make a difference in treating pancreatic cancer in patients who carry harmful mutations of either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Despite recent improvements in treatment options, pancreatic cancer continues to carry a poor prognosis and is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute.

“One of the recent research advances has been the realization that not all of pancreatic cancers are based on same genetic background, and that influences their behavior and response to treatment,” said Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD, Medical Oncology and Hematology Division Chief at Banner MD Anderson.  “Personalizing cancer treatment often involves the option to enroll in a clinical trial.”

The trial uses a new class of medications called PARP-inhibitors which are thought to be particularly effective in patients with the BRCA 1/2 mutation. Patients are first treated with a platinum-based chemotherapy regimen and can be included in the study depending on their initial response. The patients are screened for BRCA 1 or 2 mutations and if confirmed, they may be eligible for the trial. The drug is called Olaparib and is manufactured by AstraZeneca.

About 5 to 6 percent of all pancreatic cancer patients carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, Dragovich said.

Banner MD Anderson, located on the Banner Gateway campus, delivers cancer care to patients in Arizona through the collaboration of Banner Health and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Banner MD Anderson offers focused disease-specific expertise in the medical, radiation and surgical management of the cancer patient; an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to patient care; access to clinical trials and new investigative therapies; state-of-the-art technology for the diagnosis, staging and treatment of all types of cancer; oncology expertise in supportive care services.