Impaired drug transport is an important factor that reduces the efficacy of anticancer agents against pancreatic cancer. Here, we report a novel combination chemotherapy using gemcitabine (GEM) and internalised-RGD (iRGD) peptide, which enhances tumour-specific drug penetration by binding neuropilin-1 (NRP1) receptor.


A total of five pancreatic cancer murine models (two cell line-based xenografts (CXs) and three tumour grafts (TGs)) were treated with either GEM (100 mg kg−1, q3d × 4) alone or GEM plus iRGD peptide (8 μmol kg−1). Evaluation of NRP1 expression in xenografts and 48 clinical cancer specimens was performed by immunohistochemistry (IHC).


We identified a subset of pancreatic cancer models that showed NRP1 overexpression sensitive to iRGD co-administration. Treatment with GEM plus iRGD peptide resulted in a significant tumour reduction compared with GEM monotherapy in CXs, but not remarkable in TGs. Potential targets of iRGD were characterised as cases showing NRP1 overexpression (IHC-2+/3+), and these accounted for 45.8% of the clinical specimens.


Internalised RGD peptide enhances the effects of co-administered drugs in pancreatic cancer models, its efficacy is however only appreciable in those employing cell lines. Therefore, the clinical application needs to be given careful consideration.