Illustration showing a pancreas with pancreatic cancer highlighted in red.

The post-COVID rise of telemedicine has spawned a unique trial that will give more patients access to targeted therapies for pancreatic cancer, but from the comfort of their home. An entirely telehealth-based cancer clinical trial is being launched at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC).

“This is a game changer for cancer clinical trials, and more importantly, patients,” said Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist with OSUCCC and principal investigator of the new study.

He added that, “Traveling for specialized cancer treatment is often cost-prohibitive for patients experiencing cancer—particularly for rare but aggressive types like pancreatic cancer, where clinical trials can represent the most up-to-date and targeted treatment for advanced disease.”

The trial will launch in late 2023 and will include partnerships with Incyte Pharmaceuticals, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Foundation Medicine, and Caris Life Sciences.

Pancreatic cancer is a rare but often aggressive form of cancer that is diagnosed in about 64,000 people each year. The disease is often diagnosed in later, less treatable stages because its symptoms usually occur after it has spread to other parts of the body. While surgery can be curative in the earliest stages, it is rarely detected before it has spread, and approved treatment options are limited. This, said Roychowdhury, is why expanding access to targeted drug therapy clinical trials is so critical.

“There may be hundreds of gene mutations in someone’s cancer. Discovering which ones are driving how the cancer behaves and treating the mutation with novel therapies is the basis of ‘smart drug’—or precision cancer medicine—research,” said Roychowdhury. “One of the major barriers for precision oncology clinical trials is the rarity of some gene mutations—which limits pharmaceutical company interest and feasibility.”

Roychowdhury has long studied the fibroblast growth factor receptor, or FGFR, mutations. These are present in roughly one percent of pancreatic cancer patients. There are over 150 FGFR inhibitors being investigated in current clinical trials,

This new telehealth study will give patients from across the United States access to oral targeted drug therapies without having to travel to a different city. Study participants will get follow-up care with Roychowdhury via telehealth, delivered in partnership with the patient’s local oncologist.

The preliminary research on FGFR that helped launch this treatment concept was supported by Gateway for Cancer Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exclusively funding early phase clinical trials for all types of cancer. An early adopter and innovator in decentralized oncology research, Gateway hopes to increase awareness of telemedicine-based clinical trials so patients know they may have options despite proximity to research sites.

“By taking clinical trial treatment options directly to the patient and partnering with community oncologists across the United States, we greatly expand access to patients who need these therapies—and we are more capable of making meaningful discoveries by recruiting larger groups of patients,” Roychowdhury said.

In addition to the clinical trial, Roychowdhury’s team has created a registry for patients to join and support research on rare types of pancreas cancer.

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