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Breast and ovarian cancer drug repurposed to treat prostate cancer

4 May 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1045

A drug already used to treat breast and ovarian cancer can also significantly delay the progression of prostate cancer.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research, London and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, conducted a randomised clinical trial testing the drug olaparib in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer. Of these, the cancer did not grow significantly for 7.4 months among the men taking the drug, in contrast to 3.6 months for the control patients. 

'It's exciting to see a drug which is already extending the lives of many women with ovarian and breast cancer now showing such clear benefits in prostate cancer too,' said co-author of the study Professor Johann de Bono.

Olaparib belongs to a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, which block PARP proteins in cancer cells. PARP proteins prevent DNA damage in cancer cells with genetic mutations. The drug inhibits this protein, causing the accumulation of DNA damage in cancer cells, and leading to the death of the cancerous cells. 

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the inhibitory drug was effective in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer who had mutations in 15 different genes involved with DNA repair.

Effective treatments against cancer tend to combine therapies, such as chemotherapy and other drugs. 'Next, we will be assessing how we can combine olaparib with other treatments, which could help men with prostate cancer and faulty DNA repair genes live even longer.' Professor de Bono said.

Olaparib has already been approved for use in the NHS to treat breast and ovarian cancer in women after one round of chemotherapy. With prostate cancer being the most common type of cancer among men in the UK, this research offers hope of a new treatment to successfully delay the growth of advanced prostate cancer.

'I can't wait to see this drug start reaching men who could benefit from it on the NHS - hopefully in the next couple of years,’ Professor de Bono said.

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