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Olaparib shows promise in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer

The cancer drug olaparib has shown promising results as a treatment for patients with a certain type of pancreatic cancer, according to clinical trial data presented at the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting in the United States.

Olaparib (also called Lynparza) is part of a drug class called PARP inhibitors and is currently approved for the treatment of certain ovarian and breast cancers. PARP inhibitors work by exploiting a certain type of defect that some cancers have in their DNA repair mechanisms and are currently under investigation for the use in several different cancers. Research supported by Worldwide Cancer Research over 20 years ago led to the discovery of olaparib.

The clinical trial, called POLO, assessed the efficacy of olaparib as a treatment for pancreatic cancer patients that carried particular mutations to a gene called BRCA. Patients treated with olaparib remained progression free (disease not getting any worse) for an average of 7.4 months, compared with 3.8 months of patients on the placebo drug. After two years, the cancer still hadn’t progressed in 22.1% of the patients treated with olaparib, as opposed to only 9.6% of patients receiving a placebo.

“This is the first positive phase III trial of any PARP inhibitor in germline BRCA-mutated metastatic pancreatic cancer, a devastating disease with critical unmet need. Most patients are diagnosed late, leaving them with a poor prognosis and very limited treatment options. Based on POLO, Lynparza becomes the first PARP inhibitor to demonstrate positive phase III results beyond ovarian cancer and breast cancer”, said José Baselga, MD, PhD, executive vice president, Research and Development, Oncology, AstraZeneca, in a press release announcing the positive data in February.

AstraZeneca started clinical testing of olaparib after buying it as part of a company called KuDOS, run by Professor Steve Jackson. Professor Jackson developed olaparib as the first in the new class of PARP inhibitors after receiving a series of grants in the late 1990s from Worldwide Cancer Research. Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, said: “Thanks to our supporters we were able to fund a piece of innovative research that ultimately led to the development of such a successful drug. It is truly amazing how funding small but ambitious projects can have such a far-reaching impact and help thousands of people around the world.”