What is olaparib?

Olaparib has already been used to treat over 5,000 people with ovarian cancer worldwide

6th December 2019

With 7,470 new cases and 4,166 deaths every year in the UK of ovarian cancer, this drug was a breakthrough treatment when it was approved in the UK in 2016.

What is olaparib?

Olaparib is the first in a new type of targeted cancer drug called a PARP inhibitor. PARP inhibitors are drugs that target a specific fault in cancer cells. Olaparib (brand name Lynparza) is a PARP inhibitor currently approved for the treatment of a specific type of ovarian cancer in the UK. Many clinical trials are ongoing to find out if olaparib might be useful in other cancers, such as breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

But how does it work?

Daily life puts a strain on our DNA. UV radiation, polluted air and the day to day processes going on in our cells continuously batter our DNA. During these events, errors called DNA mutations can happen. If the damage is too great, the cell commits suicide to protect the cells around it. If the errors are small, the cell uses a molecular repair kit, patches up the damaged DNA and continues as normal.

Two of the main tools a cell has in its repair kit are genes called PARP and BRCA. You might have heard of BRCA (the media dubbed it the "Angelina Jolie gene") because of its association with breast and ovarian cancer. BRCA can be damaged in cancer cells, meaning that they heavily rely on PARP to fix any DNA damage that occurs.

Olaparib, a PARP inhibitor, can stop PARP from repairing faults in these cancer cells. This leaves them with no tools to fix their DNA damage. Damage then accumulates over time until it’s bad enough to cause the cancer cell to commit suicide.

Doctors can use PARP inhibitors in addition to other treatments that inflict DNA damage, such as chemotherapy. In this way, more damage accumulates faster.

What does the future hold?

Olaparib has already been used to treat over 5,000 people with ovarian cancer worldwide and could treat thousands more over the coming years. In the US, olaparib has also been approved for the treatment of certain breast cancers and recent research has shown promising results for its use in prostate and pancreatic cancer. This is along with the recent news that olaparib is now approved for first-line maintenance treatment for some ovarian cancers in Scotland

When Sandy met Steve

Below is the heart-warming story of Sandy, a grandmother who meets the man who saved her life - a Worldwide Cancer Research funded scientist, Professor Steve Jackson.