A breast cancer drug is on the verge of being approved as a groundbreaking treatment for prostate cancer, following the success of a major clinical trial.
Scientists are confident that ‘olaparib’ will be a revolutionary drug for patients who have cancer cells with faulty DNA repair genes, as it stops them repairing and eventually kills them off without damaging healthy cells.
Up to a third of men with aggressive prostate cancer are set to benefit from olaparib, which outperforms hormone treatments currently available when it comes to slowing the progression of the disease.
It is the first drug of its kind which is genetically targeted and could be available through the NHS within as little as two years, with the US and Europe set to approve it as a treatment this year.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with around 48,000 cases diagnosed every year in the UK.
Professor Johann de Bono, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London and a consultant at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who co-led the study, said it was exciting to see a drug that had helped women with ovarian and breast cancer showing “clear benefits” for prostate cancer patients too.
“I can’t wait to see this drug start reaching men who could benefit from it on the NHS – hopefully in the next couple of years,” he said.
“Next, we will be assessing how we can combine olaparib with other treatments, which could help men with prostate cancer and faulty DNA repair genes live even longer.”
Final results of the PROfound trial, which was funded by AstraZeneca, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday.
It is the culmination of a decade of research supported by Prostate Cancer UK, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Movember.
A team from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust worked with colleagues around the world to conduct the trial involving 387 men with advanced prostate cancer, who had alterations in one or more of 15 DNA repair genes.
When these participants took olaparib it significantly delayed the progression of their cancer. It took 5.8 months before it got worse compared with 3.5 months for those taking the already widely used hormone treatments, enzalutamide and abiraterone.
Men with faulty BRCA1, BRCA2 or ATM genes benefited the most from receiving olaparib.
It took 7.4 months before their cancers progressed and their overall survival was 19 months on average, while those taking hormone treatments found their cancers progressed after 3.6 months and their overall survival was 15 months on average.
Olaparib, which is administered in pill form, has side effects including anaemia and nausea, but scientists believe it to be far less taxing on the body than chemotherapy.
Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, said: “These landmark findings mean that olaparib is now set to become the first ever genetically targeted drug for the disease.
“The next step will be to find new ways to combine olaparib with other treatments in order to prevent or overcome drug resistance.”
Dr David Montgomery, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, added: “This exciting result represents a revolution in the treatment of prostate cancer.Until now, treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer has been essentially one size fits all.
“That’s why it’s fantastic to see the publication of this study, which confirms the benefits of olaparib and its potential to be the first targeted treatment for prostate cancer.
“The findings reinforce our commitment to ensuring olaparib and its associated tests are made available as soon as possible for men with hormone resistant advanced prostate cancer.”