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Drug extends remission time for ovarian cancer patients, trial shows

A relatively new medication called olaparib can help extend remission times for ovarian cancer patients to around eight months, almost four months longer than patients on a placebo, according to clinical trial results presented at a conference this week.

Ovarian cancer, which kills more than 800 Australian women each year, is difficult to detect and hard to treat because the cancer regrows even after surgery and chemotherapy in four out of five women.

Extending the time the cancer is in remission following chemotherapy can improve a patient’s quality of life.

An international clinical trial funded by the pharmaceutical company that makes olaparib, AstraZeneca found that patients who took the drug stayed in remission for more than eight months on average, almost four months more than the patients in the control group.

“This is very exciting,” said Dr Clare Scott, head of the ovarian cancer research laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the oncologist who ran the trial at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“Now we are working on finding out women are most suited for this treatment. We believe patients who have ovarian cancer with a particular DNA repair defect have a better chance of responding but at the moment we have no way of picking that up. So that’s we are working on now,” she said.

The trial involved women from Australia, Israel, Europe and the U.S and results were presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

Olaparib works by inhibiting a protein called poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP), which serves to repair damaged DNA and help the cancer live longer. It is thought olaparib may further weaken cancer cells that already have problems in their ability to repair DNA damage.

“This is the first time a PARP inhibitor treatment used as a maintenance therapy has shown a substantial benefit in delaying disease progression for patients with the most resistant type of ovarian cancer, high-grade serous ovarian cancer,” said Dr Scott, whose laboratory is funded by the Victorian Cancer Agency and the Victorian Government.

“It’s an experimental therapy we have high hopes for but it’s not something that patients can get access to just yet,” as further trials are planned, she said.

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