Dr Chris Jackson is leading the first clinical trial on pancreatic cancer held in the city for more than a decade.
"Pancreas cancer is very difficult to diagnose and unfortunately it’s a disease which most people don’t survive, which means it doesn’t get the sort of attention that other cancers do," he said.
November was Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and the University of Otago professor said the sad reality was there were fewer survivors to raise its profile — of every hundred people diagnosed, only about 5%-10% were cured.
"Research into this deadly disease is vital to make progress."
Six people were taking part in Dunedin, but they were part of a wider trial being held at locations throughout New Zealand and in Australia, Dr Jackson said.
The trial was run by the Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group, a collaboration of medical and research professionals.
Clinical trials were challenging to hold, as international collaborators had to be attracted to New Zealand, he said.
"We’ve not had a pancreas cancer-specific study in Dunedin for over a decade — it is uncommon locally to have this type of trial here, so we’re excited to be participating."
The study was investigating treatment to extend the life expectancy of those with cancer at a stage where it could not be cured, as well as improving quality of life.
The trial would look at the performance of new drug, LTSA, also known as CEND-1.
It was designed to help chemotherapy get into the cancer cells more more effectively.
"The cancer itself has a lot of inflammatory tissue around it, which makes chemo drugs very hard to get into the cancer to even kill it in the first place."
The trial began in April last year, and would be completed within the next few months, he said.
"We will expect results in the next one to two years and of course we can’t say what the results are because they haven’t been analysed yet."
He was feeling cautiously optimistic, he said.
"You have to be an optimist when you’re researching pancreatic cancer ... You have to be resilient as researchers to keep studying."
The trial was one of three supported by the Gut Cancer Foundation, which had committed a total of $249,000.
Gut Cancer Foundation chief executive Liam Willis said research was the way to make advances and "shift the dial" for those diagnosed with the cancer.
Giving New Zealanders access to the three trials was great progress, but much more could still be done, he said.
"Generally, the funding pool for research in New Zealand is quite small, but for clinical trials in particular it is very difficult.
"As a result, New Zealanders miss out on access to the latest treatment options.
"Long-term funding is crucial to keep bringing research to New Zealand and involving Kiwis."