A cannabis drug may help to extend the lives of pancreatic cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, new research suggests.
Scientists found mice with the disease survived almost three times longer if they were treated with cannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD) alongside chemotherapy.
Lead researcher Professor Marco Falasca, from Queen Mary University of London, said it was “a remarkable result”.
The study, published in journal Oncogene, examined the impact of CBD on mice with pancreatic cancer receiving common chemotherapy drug Gemcitabine.
Mice treated with this combination of drugs had a median survival of 56 days, compared to 20 days for those left untreated, while mice receiving chemotherapy alone lived for a median 23.5 days.
Professor Falasca said: “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.
“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.”
The researchers said the drug combination appears to block a protein called GPR55, slowing the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.
CBD is a medical-grade cannabis extract containing virtually no high-inducing psychoactive chemicals.
It is already known to improve the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea and vomiting, and so may also improve the quality of life for patients, the researchers said.
More than 9,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year.