A maintenance treatment for patients with advanced ovarian cancer has been approved for use in Scotland.
Olaparib tablets will now be available for patients with newly-diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer who have responded to chemotherapy.
A trial has found that for those taking tablets, it can be three years before the disease progresses.
Approximately 600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Scotland every year.
Two thirds of of them are diagnosed when the disease is more advanced and the chances of survival are lower.
About 22% of ovarian cancer patients (132 patients in Scotland) carry a BRCA mutation, which can be identified via genetic testing after referral.
‘Olaparib has given me a new lease of life’
Jennifer Jennings, 59, from Edinburgh, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. She underwent chemotherapy followed by surgery and another three months of chemo.
In December that year she was told there were no longer any visible signs of the cancer.
She was checked every three months but in January 2018 the cancer came back.
She went through another six rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and then started taking olaparib.
“We’re now past the year marker, which for me is really good,” she said. “That’s helped me feel a bit more positive that my cancer’s under control. It’s let me get on with my life – I’m not continually thinking ‘When’s it coming back?’. I’m more positive about the future.”
A scan on Wednesday did not show any significant change.
“That tells me that the olaparib is doing its job,” she said.
Jennifer, a Police Scotland support worker, is now looking forward to her first granddaughter arriving in January.
“Maybe a year ago I was full of what ifs,” she said. “I didn’t know how I was going to be. How frail I was going to be. But this has given me positivity. It’s given me a new lease of life.
“I’m able to be back at work full time which I’m enjoying and I just feel I’ve got my life back on track. Back to where I was in 2016 after my treatment finished the first time.”
Prof Charlie Gourley, UK lead of the SOLO-1 clinical trial and clinical director of the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, said: “Olaparib is a practice-changing treatment that exploits the Achilles’ heel of BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.
“The unprecedented results of the SOLO-1 clinical trial show that giving olaparib after surgery and chemotherapy to patients who are newly-diagnosed with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer result in approximately three additional years before their disease progresses, giving them longer before further rounds of chemotherapy are needed.
“Although the data are immature, we are hopeful that this treatment may also increase overall survival in the future.”
He added: “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.”
More than 350 women die from ovarian cancer in Scotland each year.
Olaparib is one of a new generation of drugs which work by stopping cancer cells from repairing themselves, effectively crippling them.
The decision brings Scotland in line with the rest of the UK.
Olaparib had previously been available in Scotland to a small number of women who had advanced ovarian cancer, from after a second round of chemotherapy treatment.
Marie-Claire Platt, head of public affairs and research at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “Today’s news marks a significant advancement in how we can treat BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer in Scotland.”
Rachel Downing, head of policy and campaigns at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We are thrilled that it has been approved. For those women that can access it its results have been tremendous.”
Biopharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and MSD announced on Monday that Olaparib monotherapy has been accepted for use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.
Mohit Manrao, business unit director, oncology, at AstraZeneca UK said: “We are delighted with today’s decision which means that, for the first time, women with newly diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer have access to a medicine specifically designed for their type of cancer.
“We made olaparib available to these patients in the UK via an early access programme since December 2018 and, now that it will be available within NHS Scotland, we hope that this product of British science will help to improve outcomes for these patients.”