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Game-changing ovarian cancer drug which extends survival by three years gets NHS green light

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/25/game-changing-ovarian-cancer-drug-extends-survival-three-years/

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A game-changing drug for women with ovarian cancer – dubbed the “silent killer” – has been approved as an early treatment on the NHS.

The treatment, called olaparib, has been found to extend survival by three years among women with particular genetic mutations.

Scientists welcomed the NHS decision to fund the drug, after research showed it more than doubled the number of patients in whom disease stalled, potentially offering a cure for some cases.

The medicine is for those newly-diagnosed with ovarian cancer that has spread, who have the BRCA gene mutation, which is responsible for about one in five ovarian cancers.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer in women, with around 7,000 diagnoses in England each year, and 4,000 deaths.

It is notoriously deadly because symptoms can be vague and hard to detect, meaning six in ten cases are detected at a late stage.

Until now, women with advanced cancer have been offered surgery and chemotherapy to keep their cancer under control, with a small number getting olaparib after three rounds of chemotherapy.

But patients will now get the drug much earlier on as a maintenance drug if they have responded to first-line platinum-based chemotherapy.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) predicts up to 700 women every year in England could be given the tablets, which are taken twice a day.

However, Cary Wakefield, chief executive of charity Ovarian Cancer Action, said the decision showed the need to ensure all patients with ovarian cancer receive genetic testing, with 29 per cent of cases missing out.

Clinical data shows that the treatment, also called Lynparza, reduces the risk of cancer getting worse or the patient dying by 70 per cent compared with a placebo drug.

The drug can also benefit patients with advanced fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer.

Dr Susana Banerjee, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden in London and from the Institute for Cancer Research, who co-led the clinical trial, said: “Maintenance treatment with olaparib heralds a new era for women with ovarian cancer – this is the first time we have seen such dramatic improvements in progression-free survival.

“The trial results to date have shown that olaparib maintenance therapy extends progression-free survival by around three years in women with BRCA mutation linked advanced ovarian cancer.

“Some of my patients who have been treated in this trial at the Royal Marsden remain cancer-free several years later.”

Jonathan Ledermann, professor of medical oncology at the University College London Cancer Institute, said: “While survival rates for advanced ovarian cancer are low, our goal when treating women who are newly-diagnosed is long-term remission or even cure.

“With current standard treatments, which are limited to chemotherapy and surgery, sadly 70% of women relapse within three years.

“Olaparib is designed to exploit the Achilles’ heel of BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer and our hope is, based on the trial data, that it will significantly improve outcomes for these patients.”

Olaparib is a type of drug called a PARP inhibitor and works by preventing the PARP protein in cancer cells from repairing damaged DNA, causing the cancer cells to die.

A commercial arrangement was made between NHS England and AstraZeneca on the price of the drug.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “For the first time women with a BRCA mutation will be able to access this game-changing new generation of ovariancancer drugs from their first round of treatment.

“For many women this represents a long overdue improvement and we look forward to a future where all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, regardless of BRCA status, have multiple treatment options.”

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research said: “It’s fantastic news that olaparib will now be available on the NHS for women who have advanced ovarian cancer and inherited BRCA mutations much earlier in the course of treatment when they are most likely to benefit.

“It’s essential that the NHS should now test all women with the most common form of ovarian cancer for BRCA gene mutations at diagnosis, to ensure as many as possible can benefit from this new treatment.”