A “game-changing” ovarian cancer drug that can extend lives by delaying or even preventing the disease recurring is now being made available on the NHS. Lymparza (olaparib) could offer a cure for some women suffering from the notoriously deadly and difficult to treat cancer.
The drug has been shown to prevent the disease from recurring for as much as a year and a half after it was approved for NHS use.
It was not previously included in the Cancer Drugs Fund, meaning many women didn’t have access to it.
However, after being approved by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the drug will be made available on the NHS to women newly-diagnosed with ovarian cancer that has spread, who have the BRCA gene mutation.
Inherited BRCA gene mutations are responsible for about one in five ovarian cancers.
Up to 700 women per year could benefit from the drug, which is taken twice a day and works by inhibiting two proteins involved in DNA repair to prevent cancer growth.
Ovarian cancer can have vague symptoms and 60% of cases are detected at a late stage, with a high chance of recurrence after treatment.
Until now, women with advanced cancer have been offered surgery and chemotherapy to keep their cancer under control, with a small number getting Lynparza after three rounds of chemotherapy.
But patients will now get Lynparza 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.
Clinical data shows that Lynparza reduces the risk of cancer getting worse or the patient dying by 70% compared with a placebo drug.
Six out of 10 (60%) patients receiving the drug also had no progression of cancer after three years versus 27% receiving the dummy drug.
The drug can also benefit patients with advanced fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer.
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.”
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:
“Olaparib is a practice-changing treatment. 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. This means that more women will have a longer time before relapse, time of chemotherapy and the possibility of increased survival. The Landmark trial SOLO-1 led to a paradigm shift in the treatment of women with advanced ovarian cancer. 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.”
“Potential to cure the disease in some”
Cary Wakefield, chief executive of Ovarian Cancer Action, said the news had made “personalised treatment a reality” but said 29% of ovarian cancer patients still miss out on genetic testing to identify what type of cancer they have.
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.
Meindert Boysen, director of the NICE Centre for health technology evaluation, said:
“The availability of olaparib tablets as maintenance therapy is an important development in the management of BRCA mutation-positive advanced ovarian cancer. Olaparib is already used for ovarian cancer but is expected to have the greatest benefit when used early, and is considered to have the potential to cure the disease in some people if given before the first recurrence.”
A commercial arrangement was made between NHS England and AstraZeneca on the price of the drug.
Around 6,780 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in England.
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 ovarian cancer 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.”