By Katie O’Malley
A “game-changing” drug for women living with ovarian cancer has received approval as a first stage treatment on the NHS.
The drug, named Lynparza (olaparib), is being made available through the Cancer Drugs Fund to help women with a genetic form of the cancer.
The medication has been found to extend lives by more than doubling the number of patients whose cancer is prevented from getting worse, and could offer a cure for some women.
The medicine is now available for those recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer that has spread and who have the BRCA gene mutation (which increases your cancer risk).
Until now, women with advanced ovarian cancer have been offered surgery and chemotherapy to manager their disease, with a small number receiving Lynparza after three rounds of chemotherapy.
From now on, patients will be able to have access Lynparza much earlier on in their treatment as a maintenance drug, provided they have responded to first-line platinum-based chemotherapy.
Lynparza is known as a poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor and works by preventing the PARP protein in cancer cells from repairing damaged DNA, causing the cancer cells to die.
The NHS states that ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women.
Overall, around half of women with ovarian cancer will live for at least five years after diagnosis, and about one in three will live at least 10 years, the organisation states.
Cancer Research estimates that there were approximately 7,470 new diagnoses of ovarian cancer in the UK between 2014 and 2016.
Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said of the medication: “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.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) predicts up to 700 women every year in England could be given the Lynparza drug, which are taken in tablet form twice a day.
Clinical data from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London showed that the drug reduces the risk of cancer getting worse or the patient dying by 70 per cent compared with a placebo drug.
In addition, six out of 10 (60 per cent) patients who received the drug showed no progression of cancer after three years in comparison to 27 per cent of those who receiving a placebo of the medication.
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, described the drug as 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,” Dr Banerjee explained.
“This means that more women will have a longer time before relapse, time of chemotherapy and the possibility of increased survival.”
The oncologist continued, stating that some of her patients who took part in the trial at the Royal Marsden stayed cancer-free several years later.
Jonathan Ledermann, professor of medical oncology at the University College London Cancer Institute, said: “With current standard treatments, which are limited to chemotherapy and surgery, sadly 70 per cent 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.”
A commercial arrangement has been made between NHS England and AstraZeneca on the price of the drug.