Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) patients have poor prognosis and poor response to treatment. This is largely due to PDAC being associated with a dense and active stroma and tumor fibrosis (desmoplasia). Desmoplasia is characterized by excessive degradation and formation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) generating collagen fragments that are released into circulation. We evaluated the association of specific collagen fragments measured in pre-treatment serum with outcome in patients with PDAC. Matrix metalloprotease (MMP)-degraded type I collagen (C1M), type III collagen (C3M), type IV collagen (C4M) and a pro-peptide of type III collagen (PRO-C3) were measured by ELISA in pre-treatment serum from a randomized phase 3 clinical trial of patients with stage III/IV PDAC treated with 5-fluorouracil based therapy (n = 176). The collagen fragments were evaluated for their correlation (r, Spearman) with serum CA19-9 and for their association with overall survival (OS) based on Cox-regression analyses. In this phase 3 PDAC trial, pre-treatment serum collagen fragment levels were above the reference range for 67%-98% of patients, with median values in PDAC approximately two-fold higher than reference levels. Collagen fragment levels did not correlate with CA19-9 (r = 0.049-0.141, p = ns). On a continuous basis, higher levels of all collagen fragments were associated with significantly shorter OS. When evaluating degradation (C3M) and formation (PRO-C3) of type III collagen further, higher PRO-C3 was associated with poor OS (>25th percentile cut-point, HR = 2.01, 95%CI = 1.33-3.05) and higher C3M/PRO-C3 ratio was associated with improved OS (>25th percentile cut-point, HR = 0.53, 95%CI = 0.34-0.80). When adjusting for CA19-9 and clinical covariates, PRO-C3 remained significant (HR = 1.65, 95%CI = 1.09-2.48). In conclusion, collagen remodeling quantified in pre-treatment serum as a surrogate measure of desmoplasia was significantly associated with OS in a phase 3 clinical PDAC trial, supporting the link between desmoplasia, tumorigenesis, and response to treatment. If validated, these biomarkers may have prognostic and/or predictive potential in future PDAC trials.
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