A chemical or flavonoid found in cannabis may “have major impact in treatment of pancreatic cancer,” according to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers from Harvard University.

Flavonoids are non-psychoactive compounds that occur naturally in fruits, plants, and vegetables. These compounds flavor, scent, and color plants. Flavonoids only make up about .14 percent of the cannabis plant.

The researchers tested how FBL-03G, derived from cannabis flavonoids, affected pancreatic cancer cells. Surprisingly, flavonoid treatment killed all of the tumor cells in 70 percent of the mice with pancreatic cancer.

Yahoo Lifestyle interviewed Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, for the Dana-Farber team.

“Tumor-targeted delivery of flavonoids, derived from cannabis, enabled both local and metastatic tumor cell kill, significantly increasing survival from pancreatic cancer,” Ngwa told Yahoo Lifestyle. “This has major significance, given that pancreatic cancer is particularly refractory to current therapies.”

Cannabis flavonoid treatment for pancreatic cancer

Across the US, pancreatic cancer makes up just 3 percent of all cancers. Yet it remains among the most difficult forms of cancer to treat.

It is also among most deadly, killing more than 92 percent of patients within five years. In fact, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, by 2020 pancreatic cancer will be second only to lung cancer in terms of cancer-related deaths in Americans.

Ngwa told Yahoo Lifestyle that FBL-03G is capable of attacking other cancer cells—something that surprised even the team.

“We were quite surprised that the drug could inhibit the growth of cancer cells in other parts of the body, representing metastasis, that were not targeted by the treatment,” Ngwa said. “This suggests that the immune system is involved as well, and we are currently investigating this mechanism.”

Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose until it has spread and is in the later stages. Flavonoid treatment may therefore mean increased life expectancy, even for patients with cancer outside the pancreas.

Next Ngwa and the other researchers hope to complete ongoing pre-clinical studies by the end of 2020—ideally leading to clinical trials.

According to the American Cancer Society, across the US healthcare professionals will diagnose nearly 56,770 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2019. The disease is likely to kill more than 45,700 of those people.