Dr. Talia Golan is leading the battle to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. Spearheading one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of 2019, the head of Sheba Medical Center’s Pancreatic Center helped to discover a potential new treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer. Dr. Golan, who has been conducting ongoing research and clinical trials with AstraZeneca and MSD (Merck), two of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, to evaluate the safety and test the efficacy of a new drug treatment regimen known as POLO in order to treat a specific type of metastatic pancreatic cancer (in carriers of the BRCA 1 and 2 mutation) within patients around the globe, has reported very promising results in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The POLO (Pancreatic Cancer Olaparib Ongoing) trial using the medicine Lynparza (olaparib), offers potential hope for those who suffer from metastatic pancreatic cancer and have a BRCA situation,” Dr. Golan revealed. “This treatment also exemplifies the advent of ‘precision medicine’ based on a specific genetic biomarker, BRCA 1 and 2.”
Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 new cases in 2018 alone. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death, and less than 3% of patients with metastatic disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult, as often there are no symptoms until it is too late. Around 80% of patients are diagnosed at the metastatic stage.
“In the history of oncology, there have been only two or three studies that have shown some benefits for pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Raanan Berger, head of oncology for Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, located in the Tel HaShomer neighborhood of Ramat Gan. “This is a very rare breakthrough.” Dr. Berger said the results show that those patients from around the world who received the treatment — a round of chemotherapy and then several treatments with olaparib — did much better than those who did not receive the drug, in terms of response, time for progression, and quality of life.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins responsible for repairing damaged DNA and play an important role in maintaining the stability of cells. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly, and cells may become unstable. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer. A significant number of Ashkenazi Jews around the world are carriers of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes.
Dr. Golan is a medical oncologist, specializing in gastrointestinal malignancies, and is recognized as a world-renowned specialist and researcher in the field of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Golan is also the director of phase 1 clinical trials unit at Sheba’s Pancreatic Cancer Center. The Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center and Henry Ford Innovative Institute have named Dr. Golan the recipient of the Inaugural Mort and Brigitte Harris Pancreas Center Award, awarded to a pancreatic cancer specialist who demonstrates exceptional courage and devotion in the fight against the devastating disease.
Dr. Golan is a prolific pancreatic cancer researcher, named among Forbes Israel’s 2019 List of 50 Most Influential Women in Israel. The prestigious magazine cited Dr. Golan’s headline making research with POLO.
“We are constantly working on new and innovative medicines in collaboration with other hospitals and cancer research units like MD Anderson (at the University of Texas), PMH (Canada) and NYU in the United States,” said Dr. Golan. “The biggest thing for me right now is working with various research groups to make rapid progress in understanding the progress of pancreatic cancer, in developing early detection mechanisms for the disease, and in developing new treatment options. Each of these remains a challenge.”
Undaunted in her quest to eradicate the insidious disease, she is leading the charge, determined to meet every challenge.
“I believe the changes in the way we treat pancreatic cancer, using new and innovative technologies at our disposal, will result in the emergence of game-changing drugs in the near future,” Dr. Golan said. “These treatments will target the specific gene mutation that causes the cancer, re-engineer it, and eliminate it as a threat.”
Sheba Medical Center Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. Sheba is the only medical center in Israel that combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on its campus, and is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, research, and education. In 2019, Newsweek magazine named Sheba one of the top 10 hospitals in the world.
POLO is a phase III randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, multi-center study of Lynparza tablets (300 mg twice daily) as maintenance monotherapy vs. placebo. The trial randomized 154 patients with gBRCAm metastatic pancreatic cancer whose disease has not progressed on first-time platinum-based chemotherapy.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.