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FDA approves Afinitor for rare pancreatic cancer

May 06, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • The FDA approved Afinitor Thursday for treating neuroendocrine tumors in the pancreas. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, above, was diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2003.
The FDA approved Afinitor Thursday for treating neuroendocrine tumors… (Robert Durell / Los Angeles…)

Patients with a rare type of pancreatic cancer have a new option. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug Afinitor for the treatment of neuroendocrine cancer in the pancreas that has spread or can’t be surgically removed. 

Afinitor (everolimus) was already approved as an option for kidney cancer patients when other treatments have failed, and it also exists as Zortress, under which it’s used to reduce the risk of organ rejection after a kidney transplant. Now, the Novartis drug has shown promise in treating progressive neuroendocrine tumors in the pancreas, also known as islet cell tumors. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs was diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2003.

The drug isn’t a cure, but it does appear to extend survival. A 410-person clinical trial found that Afinitor could extend the median amount of time patients lived without their cancer worsening or spreading by 11 months, compared to 4.6 months for patients on a placebo. According to a release from the FDA:

“Patients with this cancer have few effective treatment options,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., director of the Office of Oncology Drug Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Afinitor has demonstrated the ability to slow the growth and spread of neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas.”

But as far as pancreatic cancers go, neuroendocrine tumors, which make up 1.4% of about 40,000 pancreatic cancer diagnoses each year, are relatively less deadly.

These tumors begin in the islet cells of the pancreas, where hormones are produced.

But the majority of pancreatic cancers are very deadly, primarily because symptoms aren’t detected until the cancer is already in a late-stage—75% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

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