Technology magnate and business icon Steve Jobs has kept his health a private matter since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer mid-2004. His resignation yesterday as CEO of Apple Inc. (NSDQ:AAPL) has many wondering if he may have taken a turn for the worse.
Since becoming CEO in 1997, Jobs took Apple from a $2 billion afterthought to a contender for the world’s most valuable company with $344 billion in market share.
He was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer halfway through his tenure, underwent "Whipple procedure" to remove tumors from his pancreas in July 2004, and in April 2009 had a mysterious liver transplant that the company refused to comment on.
Jobs didn’t provide any illumination in his resignation letter to the company’s board of directors, saying only "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know."
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. and globally. Survival rates are low and the prognosis for patients is often grim. Liver transplant patients have about a 50 percent chance of survival at 18 years, according to the Annals of Surgery, but the outlook for pancreatic cancer patients is much lower. About 10 percent survive to five years, and the number is much lower for patients whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Luckily for Jobs, there are several med-tech companies who have set their sights on pancreatic cancer and have developed tools to aid in detection, monitoring and treatment.
Here are five medical devices in the works that might save Steve Jobs’ life:
1. Targeted chemotherapy from Delcath
Delcath Systems Inc.’s (NSDQ:DCTH) Chemosat represents a revolutionary platform for treating cancer in an isolated organ without subjecting the rest of the body to the toxic chemicals in chemotherapy.
One tube delivers cancer killing melphalan hydrochloride via a catheter. A second tube draws blood mixed with the drug toward an external filtration system; a third delivers the now-filtered blood back to the heart via the internal jugular vein.
Isolating the drug allows physicians to use doses several times higher than current standards, and to follow up a focused dose of chemo to the liver with a systemic dose to target cancerous tissue throughout the body.
Although currently only indicated for use in liver cancers so far, the president & CEO Eamonn Hobbs told MassDevice that there’s no technical reason that it can’t expand to other parts of the body.
Chemosat won CE Mark approval in the European Union in April, but has yet to get the okay from the FDA.
2. Treatment and diagnosis with SpyGlass from Boston Scientific
Boston Scientific Corp.’s (NYSE:BSX) SpyGlass direct visualization system allows physicians access to the pancreas for diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer or pre-cancerous tissues.
The device is a single-operator system that helps reduce the need for exploratory surgery in getting a definitive diagnosis for patients with suspected pancreatic cancer. Treatment can begin earlier and can be delivered through the catheter.
The system won FDA 510(k) clearance for diagnostic and therapeutic applications during endoscopic procedures in the pancreatico-biliary system in May 2009.
3. GPS for the Body from Calypso
Calypso Medical Technologies Inc.’s GPS for the Body won FDA clearance in 2006 for focused cancer radiation therapy using a proprietary guidance system that tracks a tumor in real time as the body moves, keeping the radiation beam on target.
The device treated its 10,000th patient in May, and although it’s only indicated for use against prostate cancer so far it’s already in studies to test its viability in fighting pancreatic cancer.
In the treatment, tiny glass-encapsulated Beacon transponders are implanted at the site of a tumor, allowing the radiation delivery system to aim a focused beam and avoid healthy tissue.
4. Better diagnostic imaging with Repligen’s synthetic human secretin
The Waltham, Mass.-based company reported improvement in detection of abnormalities, image quality and confidence in diagnostic findings with RG1068, a synthetic version of a human secretin that stimulates secretion of pancreatic fluid.
The therapy is not on the market yet, but was granted Orphan Drug status and Fast Track designation by the FDA.
5. Telling cysts apart with optical coherence tomography
Telling harmless pancreatic cysts apart from potentially cancerous ones is a difficult task, but researchers demonstrated for the first time that optical coherence tomography, a high-resolution imaging technique that uses near-infrared lasers that bounce light off of body tissue, can provide clearer images so that doctors can make a better assessment.
OCT may stem the need for exploratory surgery, as researchers found that the laser imaging technique was almost as good as looking at slices of the cysts through a microscope.