Targeted ovarian cancer drug made more widely available on the NHS in Scotland

In collaboration with the Press Association

A targeted cancer drug has been approved for use on the NHS in Scotland for patients with advanced, newly diagnosed ovarian cancer that’s responded to chemotherapy.

Olaparib (Lynparza) tablets will be used to help prolong the effects of initial treatment, as a so-called maintenance therapy. The targeted therapy is already available for people with advanced ovarian cancer who’ve had 2 or more round of chemotherapy in Scotland, but the latest decision will mean patients can now receive olaparib after their first round of chemotherapy. 

Professor Charlie Gourley, clinical director of the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, called olaparib a “practice changing treatment”. 

Trial results have shown that the drug, which stops cancer cells repairing damage to their DNA, can give patients more time before their cancer gets significantly bigger.  

More time between chemotherapy

Olaparib will be an option for newly diagnosed patients whose cancer tests positive for a faulty version of the BRCA gene and has begun to spread. It will only be available to people who have responded to platinum-containing chemotherapy. 

The targeted therapy interferes with the way cells repair damage to their DNA, blocking the activity of a protein called PARP. It’s particularly effective at treating cancers carrying a faulty BRCA gene, as these cells become dependent on PARP to repair any damage to their DNA. 

Preliminary trial results show that olaparib can extend the time before these cancers get bigger compared to a dummy drug (placebo). 

Of the 391 people on the trial, 60 in 100 patients taking olaparib were alive without their disease progressing 3 years after treatment. Those taking the dummy drug lived without their disease progressing for an average of 13.8 months. 

Gourley said these “unprecedented results” mean that patients could have longer before they need additional rounds of chemotherapy.

“Although the data are immature, we are hopeful that this treatment may also increase overall survival in the future. It is now imperative that all women with ovarian cancer are tested for the BRCA mutation to give them the benefit of this therapy wherever possible.”

The latest decision covers patients diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and gynaecological cancers of the fallopian tube and the tissue layer covering the stomach (peritoneum).

Olaparib was made available in England for the same group of women earlier this year by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). As NICE decisions are usually adopted in Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England, the drug is now likely to be available in all 4 nations.