Phosphatidylserine (PS) is often externalized in viable pancreatic cancer cells and is therapeutically targetable using PS-selective drugs. One of the first-line treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer disease, gemcitabine (GEM), provides only marginal benefit to patients. We therefore investigated the therapeutic benefits of combining GEM and the PS-targeting drug, saposin C-dioleoylphosphatidylserine (SapC-DOPS), for treating pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Using cell-cycle analyses and a cell surface PS-based sorting method in vitro, we observed an increase in surface PS as cells progress through the cell cycle from G1 to G2/M. We also observed that GEM treatment preferentially targets G1 phase cells that have low surface PS, resulting in an increased median surface PS level of PDAC cells. Inversely, SapC-DOPS preferentially targets high surface PS cells that are predominantly in the G2/M phase. Finally, combination therapy in subcutaneous and orthotopic PDAC tumors in vivo with SapC-DOPS and GEM or Abraxane (Abr)/GEM (one of the current standards of care) significantly inhibits tumor growth and increases survival compared with individual treatments. Our studies confirm a surface PS and cell cycle-based enhancement of cancer cytotoxicity following SapC-DOPS treatment in combination with GEM or Abr/GEM. Thus, PDAC patients treated with Abr/GEM may benefit from concurrent administration of SapC-DOPS.
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