Drug made from Chinese tree bark offers hope for pancreatic cancer patients

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Researchers are finding new hope in an ancient remedy to treat pancreatic cancer. 

Pancreatic cancer is one of the toughest cancers to treat. Only 6 to 8 percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis.

"We know that pancreatic cancer is going to be the second leading cause of death in the United States within the next 10 years, so we're desperate for new treatments," Dr. Christos Fountzilas, a 
medical oncologist, said.

A compound derived from Chinese tree bark could provide an answer. It's called FL-118 and it's being developed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo.

"Our drug, either used alone or in combination with current therapies, can completely eliminate the tumor," said Fengzhi Li, associate professor of oncology.  

The drug is based on a substance that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and has been shown, so far, to be very tolerable and non-toxic.

"It's killing cancer cells and it's helping our treatments be more effective in killing cancer cells, even if these cancer cells become resistant to treatment," Fountzilas said.

Researchers said they hope to begin clinical trials of the compound within the next year.

KSAT.com editor's note: An earlier version of this online story erroneously reported that Michael Gilkerson, a pancreatic cancer patient, is currently cancer-free after taking FL-118.

Gilkerson did not take FL-118; he shares his input as a pancreatic cancer survivor who believes additional, less toxic treatments are needed for his disease. He says this new drug gives him hope.

FL-118 has not yet been given to patients, though clinical studies are being developed and could be initiated within the next year.