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The first thing Dr. Melissa Fishel wants to show visitors to her lab is a computer screen filled with shapeless blobs which appear to be circling each other.

“We are trying to understand how those cells are interacting,” says Dr. Fishel. “and we want to disrupt that interaction and get our drugs in, to kill the tumor. Then hopefully we can do a better job at treating the disease.”

Fishel is talking about pancreatic cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers.  Ninety-three percent of pancreatic cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis.

For well over 23 years scientists have tried to kill pancreatic cancer.  They believe they may have found an important weapon: an experimental drug, just approved for human clinical trials, by the name of  APX 3330.

“We’ve been able to focus on this target protein to go after it to make a drug,”  says Dr. Mark Kelley, who has a Ph. D. in genetics and molecular biology.  He teaches at the IU School of Medicine.

Kelley’s initial research attracted the attention of some Lilly executives.  Their expertise with the FDA pushed the research forward and the program began to grow. Now the FDA has given its approval for human clinical trials.

“We have the drug already made,” says Kelley. “It’s already been in formulation and it’s in the little tablets you can take. So we’re very excited because we’re ready to go. We’re ready to start the trials.”

If the research holds true, APX 3330 will attack the tumor, but it also has to interrupt what Kelley calls “helper cells” protecting cancer cells.

“We have good data that the drug is safe and actually hits the target. That’s the most important thing,” says Kelley.

Apexian Pharmaceuticals, Kelley’s drug company, has spent more than $5 million to get its initial treatment to clinical trial phase.  It’s estimated he may have to spend two to three times that, just to clear the initial hurdles.

The human clinical trials of APX 3330 could start in the first quarter of 2017.

For more on pancreatic cancer research at the IU Medical School, click here.

4 Your Health is presented by American Senior Communities