Local company behind breakthrough drug for pancreatic cancer

Posted at 6:08 PM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-02 21:08:24-04

SAN DIEGO - A local company is behind a breakthrough treatment for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

The treatment is giving hope to San Diego mother Rachel Santmyer-Flores, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 40.

"Everything was perfect. In one instant, it just changes," said Santmyer-Flores. "Every day after, you just think you're going to wake up and it's going to go away; and of course, it hasn't"

Since then, Santmyer-Flores has been focused on creating memories, especially with her three-year old daughter Lily.

"It was like a mad rush to do everything," said Santmyer-Flores. "It makes me feel more at peace."

Experts say patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have a 71 percent chance of dying within one year. The challenge is pancreatic cancer creates a protective shell around its tumor, blocking chemotherapy.

Santmyer-Flores' doctor, Dr. Darren Sigal at Scripps Clinic, references a chocolate chip cookie to explain.

"The chocolate chips represent the cancerous cells themselves, and the doughy part represents what the stroma -- the protective shell -- looks like," said Sigal.

Great advances have been made in breast, colon and lung cancers, but not in pancreatic cancer research -- until now. Sorrento Valley company Halozyme is conducting a new clinical trial for a drug called PEGPH20, which eats away the protective shell.

"So that all that's left behind is the pancreatic cancer tumor that can be more effectively killed by chemotherapy and other mechanisms," added Sigal.

In Santmyer-Flores' case, Sigal said she's been doing really remarkably well for the past year and a half.

Santmyer-Flores said she has to get CT scans and lab work done every eight weeks. She also said her blood work is good and her overall health is excellent.

"Thank God," said Santmyer-Flores. "I don't know if it's just my wishful thinking, but I really feel that something good is going to happen."

The experimental drug gives her more reason to have faith in her favorite motto: "Believe nothing is impossible."

PEGPH20 also gives Santmyer-Flores more hope that she'll be able to create more memories with Lily and the rest of her family.

"I set little goals for myself. I'm going to be here for her 4th birthday and I'm going to be here for my 43rd birthday. You just have to take it day-by-day or week-by-week," said Santmyer-Flores.

Clinical trials at Scripps for PEGPH20 run through October 2018. After that, it'll take at least another two years before the Food and Drug Administration approves it.

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In order to qualify, patients must have not received any prior treatments for pancreatic cancer.