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NHS approves earlier use of 'game-changing' ovarian cancer drug

29 July 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1008

Women in England with advanced ovarian cancer will now have access to a drug that could help halt the progression of their disease much earlier in their course of treatment. 

Olaparib is a targeted cancer drug that has been shown to delay signs of relapse and reduce the chance of death in women who have BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer (see BioNews 973). Previously, olaparib was only available to patients who had had surgery or been treated with three different chemotherapy drugs. The latest decision means patients will now be offered the drug after one round of chemotherapy. 

Chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, Professor Paul Workman, 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.'

Rose Gray, Cancer Research UK's policy manager also welcomed the decision, saying that it's 'fantastic news' and 'will offer new hope' to those affected by ovarian cancer.  

The recommendation came following an ongoing phase-three clinical trial, showing that olaparib can delay ovarian cancers and reduce the risk of disease progression and death by 70 percent, when compared to a placebo drug. Sixty percent of patients who took olaparib showed no progression of their cancer after three years, in comparison to 27 percent of patients who received the placebo treatment.

Dr Susana Banerjee, a consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden in London and Institute of Cancer Research, who co-led the trial, described the drug as a ‘practice-changing treatment'. And added that ‘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. This means more women will have a longer time before relapse, time of chemotherapy and the possibility of increased survival.'

Olaparib is made by AstraZeneca and belongs to the class of PARP (poly-ADP ribose polymerase) inhibitor drugs, so called because they block the protein PARP from repairing damaged DNA in cancer cells causing them to die. The extension of olaparib treatment will be paid for through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), and the potential of the drug to extend patients' lives will continue to be assessed.

'Because it's been recommended for the CDF, patients will be able to access the drug while more evidence is gathered on its longer-term benefits,' said Gray.

Wales and Northern Ireland will most likely adopt the same practice. Scotland is also considering approving the drug.

'Game-changing' ovarian cancer drug receives NHS approval
Indepentent |  26 July 2019
Ovarian cancer drug olaparib 'can delay disease in newly diagnosed'
BBC News |  26 July 2019
Ovarian cancer drug will be offered earlier to NHS patients in England
CRUK |  26 July 2019
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