Of all cancer types, pancreatic cancer is the hardest to treat. While there have been strides in the success of therapies used to medicate sufferers of almost every kind of cancer, in the past 40 years the life expectancy dial for pancreatic cancer has barely moved.
Five-year survival for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is less than 7% – the only form of the disease still confirmed to the single digits. Liver cancer is closest, with 5-year survival rates a more than 10% higher at 19%. However, a recent study led by Professor Marco Falasca of London’s Queen Mary University has shown significant potential in the combination of Cannabidiol (CBD) with chemotherapy in extending the lives of sufferers.
CBD is medical grade marijuana, or cannabis. Unlike strains of cannabis or marijuana used recreationally, medical marijuana contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the ‘high’ induced by non-medical strains.
Professor Falasca’s team studies the effects of combining medical cannabis with Gemcitabine, a common chemotherapy drug, in mice with pancreatic cancer. Test results showed that mice that were given combined treatment involving both Gemcitabine and CBD showed a median survival period of 56 days. That was more than double the medium 23.5 days mice treated with only Gemcitabine survived. Untreated mice had a median survival time of 20 days.
The team found evidence to suggest that the combination of the two drugs blocked a protein compound called GPR55.
Less GPR55 significantly slowed the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. While not a cure for pancreatic cancer even just being able to significantly slow down the spread of the disease will count as a major breakthrough for a cancer type that has so far defied all treatments. The team still has to demonstrate similar potential in humans but have high hopes after the results seen in the mice were described as ‘remarkable’.
Because CBD oil is already approved for use in clinics, if the results of the research, published in the Oncogene journal, can be replicated in human clinical trials then the treatment would be made widely available almost immediately. Medical cannabis has already been shown to help alleviate chemotherapy symptoms such as vomiting and nausea. In late 2017 the World Health Organisation also released a report that indicated support for the evidence that CBD could help treat symptoms relating to a range of conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases to MS, pain relief, anxiety and some forms of cancer.
Legal restrictions around cannabis has meant that clinical research into its medical benefits has been, until recently, limited. Now, however, hugely promising research has launched a flood or investment into further research and clinical trials for cannabis-based drugs.