A trial of verteporfin photodynamic therapy for locally advanced cancer of the pancreas

Cancer type:

Pancreatic cancer




Phase 1

This trial looked at photodynamic therapy using a drug called verteporfin for pancreatic cancer that couldn’t be removed with surgery.

Cancer of the pancreas is very difficult to treat. Even if it hasn’t spread anywhere else in the body, surgery to remove pancreatic cancer may not be possible. Researchers are looking for new ways of treating pancreatic cancer that can’t be removed with surgery.

In this trial, they looked at photodynamic therapy (PDT). This was a very experimental treatment using a drug called verteporfin. Verteporfin makes cancer cells sensitive to light (a photosensitiser). In trials of PDT for other types of cancer, different photosensitisers had been used, but the researchers thought that verteporfin may have fewer side effects.

The people in this trial had verteporfin as an injection into a vein. After the drug had time to get into their cancer cells, the doctor aimed a laser light at them. They hoped that this would kill some of the cancer cells.

The aims of this trial were to

  • See if photodynamic therapy using verteporfin was safe
  • Find out if it helped people with pancreatic cancer
  • Learn more about the side effects

Summary of results

The trial team found that photodynamic therapy using verteporfin was safe and had few side effects.

This was a phase 1 trial. It recruited 15 people with pancreatic cancer that couldn’t be removed with surgery.

Everyone had photodynamic therapy using verteporfin.  

An hour after having verteporfin, the doctor aimed a low power, red laser light at the cancer. This was done by putting light fibres thorough the skin into the cancer using an ultrasound or CT scan to guide them. The laser light activated the drug, which killed the cancer cells.

Of the 15 people in the trial, 13 had one fibre put in. The first few had a small dose of laser light. In the next few the amount of laser light was increased. And so on until they found the right amount of light to use.

After this the next person had 2 light fibres put in place. And the last person had 3 light fibres put in place.

3 people reported mild to moderate tummy (abdominal) pain after treatment, which settled after taking painkillers.

The average length of time people lived was 15½ months.

The team concluded that it was safe and possible to give photodynamic therapy using verteporfin for people with pancreatic cancer that had spread to surrounding body tissues.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Stephen Pereira

Supported by

Killing Cancer
NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) Award
University College London (UCL)
University College London Hospital Charity
University College London Hospital Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre
University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 900

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials in the UK last year.

Last reviewed:

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