Prof Marco Falasca Head Metabolic Signalling Group  School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences | Faculty of Health Sciences Curtin University Western University

Pancreatic Cancer: Cannabidiol + Chemotherapy Improved Survival (in mice) Interview with:

Prof Marco Falasca Head Metabolic Signalling Group  School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences | Faculty of Health Sciences Curtin University Western University

Prof. Falasca

Prof Marco Falasca
Head Metabolic Signalling Group
School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences
Faculty of Health Sciences
Curtin University
Western University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Each year around 9,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease is particularly aggressive and has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers.

Indeed, the life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available. Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is less than seven per cent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.

In this study, we decided to concentrate on a protein, named GPR55, found in high levels in pancreatic cancer. Our results show that GPR55 promotes pancreatic cancer progression. Consequently, we decided to use its inhibitor cannabidiol, a naturally occurring constituent of medicinal cannabis, as a pharmacological strategy to block GPR55 activity.

Strikingly, mice with pancreatic cancer that were treated with cannabidiol alongside chemotherapy, survived almost three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone, our study reports. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Cannabidiol is already approved for use in clinics, which means we can quickly go on to test this in human clinical trials. If we can reproduce these effects in humans, cannabidiol could be in use in cancer clinics almost immediately, compared to having to wait for authorities to approve a new drug.

Cannabidiol does not cause psychoactive effects, as opposed to tetrahydrocannabinol– the cannabinoid known to cause the psychoactive effects in cannabis. As such, cannabidiol is already cleared for use in the clinic, and does not face the same challenges as products including cannabis oil, which contain controlled substances such as tetrahydrocannabinol.

Furthermore, cannabidiol is also known to improve the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, meaning it could also improve the quality of life of patients undergoing chemotherapy. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future drug development efforts could focus on using different cannabis extracts in combination to other chemotherapies to see if we can obtain an even better efficacy. In addition, this work provides motivation for the further investigation on identification of novel putative cannabinoid receptors role in cancer. Identification of new receptors could reveal novel targets for drug development. 

Disclosures: This project was made possible by an Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation grant and a Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund grant. 


R. Ferro, A. Adamska, R. Lattanzio, I. Mavrommati, C. E. Edling, S. A. Arifin, C. A. Fyffe, G. Sala, L. Sacchetto, G. Chiorino, V. De Laurenzi, M. Piantelli, O. J. Sansom, T. Maffucci, M. Falasca. GPR55 signalling promotes proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells and tumour growth in mice, and its inhibition increases effects of gemcitabine. Oncogene, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41388-018-0390-1

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Last Updated on August 1, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD