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Pilot Clinical Trial of Hedgehog Pathway Inhibitor GDC-0449 (Vismodegib) in Combination with Gemcitabine in Patients with Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma



The hedgehog (HH) signaling pathway is a key regulator in tumorigenesis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma and is upregulated in pancreatic adenocarcinoma cancer stem cells (CSCs). GDC-0449 is an oral small-molecule inhibitor of the HH pathway. This study assessed the effect of GDC-0449-mediated HH inhibition in paired biopsies, followed by combined treatment with gemcitabine, in patients with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Experimental design

Twenty-five patients were enrolled of which 23 underwent core biopsies at baseline and following 3 weeks of GDC-0449. On day 29, 23 patients started weekly gemcitabine while continuing GDC-0449. We evaluated GLI1 and PTCH1 inhibition, change in CSCs, Ki-67, fibrosis, and assessed tumor response, survival and toxicity.


On pretreatment biopsy, 75% of patients had elevated sonic hedgehog (SHH) expression. On posttreatment biopsy, GLI1 and PTCH1 decreased in 95.6% and 82.6% of 23 patients, fibrosis decreased in 45.4% of 22, and Ki-67 in 52.9% of 17 evaluable patients. No significant changes were detected in CSCs pre- and postbiopsy. The median progression-free and overall survival for all treated patients were 2.8 and 5.3 months. The response and disease control rate was 21.7% and 65.2%. No significant correlation was noted between CSCs, fibrosis, SHH, Ki-67, GLI1, PTCH1 (baseline values or relative change on posttreatment biopsy), and survival. Grade ≥ 3 adverse events were noted in 56% of patients.


We show that GDC-0449 for 3 weeks leads to downmodulation of GLI1 and PTCH1, without significant changes in CSCs compared with baseline. GDC-0449 and gemcitabine were not superior to gemcitabine alone in the treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

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