New Ovarian Cancer Drug Looks Promising

Breakthrough Breast Cancer and AstraZeneca, with the Institute of Cancer Research unveil results of trial into new cancer fighting drug Olaparib.

An experimental drug shown to be effective in treating ovarian cancer in patients with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations appears to be effective in some patients without the mutations as well, WebMD reports.

The drug Olaparib is one of several experimental treatments that block the activity of the protein PARP, which, like BRCA, is involved in DNA repair.

The new study is the first to suggest that PARP inhibitors may prove effective in a broader group of patients with non-inherited cancers who have few treatment options, lead researcher Karen Gelmon, MD, of Vancouver, Canada’s BC Cancer Agency, told WebMD.

The study included 65 ovarian cancer patients and 26 breast cancer patients with highly aggressive, advanced forms of the diseases. Prior to entering the study, the patients had been treated with an average of three different chemotherapy regimens. Some of the participants had received as many as 10 different treatments.

Additionally, some of the patients carried the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations while others did not.

All of the participants were given 400 milligrams of olaparib twice a day for a month between July 2008 and September 2009. After four weeks, 41 percent of the ovarian cancer patients with BRCA mutations and 24 percent of those without a mutation showed substantial tumor shrinkage.

However, responses were not seen in breast cancer patients with triple-negative tumors -- that is, tumors that do not respond to hormonal treatments or those targeting HER2 receptors. Melinda Telli, MD, oncologist and assistant professor of medicine in the division of medical oncology at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., told WebMd, “We thought this class of drugs might have a larger role to play [in the treatment of patients without BRCA mutations], and this is the first study to confirm that this might be the case.” Drugmaker AstraZeneca, who funded the research, hopes to market the drug -- pending FDA approval of course.
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