PARP inhibitors are quite a new type of targeted therapy. They work by stopping cancer cells from carrying out essential DNA repairs.
All cells gather DNA damage as they divide and grow. However, cancer cells often accumulate more DNA damage than healthy cells, and they can also find it harder to repair that damage too. This is a recognised ‘weak spot’ for cancer, and researchers are working hard to find ways to exploit this important vulnerability.
One way is to target a group of proteins that are heavily involved in DNA repair, called PARP proteins. Cancer cells can become very reliant on PARP proteins, and so are especially vulnerable to drugs that are designed to block these proteins from working (called PARP inhibitors). When PARP protein activity is blocked, cancer cells find it very hard to repair damaged DNA, and become more likely to die.
PARP inhibitors have only been available to patients for the last 10 years, but research funded by our supporters for many years before that helped to bring the first PARP inhibitor, called olaparib, to patients.