The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the drug olaparib for use on the NHS. Women with ovarian cancer who carry faulty versions of the BRCA1 and 2 genes that have already responded to chemotherapy will be eligible for the drug. Clinical trials showed that the drug extends the lives of patients by an average of seven months; some women are still alive after several years.
Patients in England and Wales have had to wait a year longer to access the drug than those in Europe and the USA, while officials wrangled over the price - Lynparza now costs £3550 per month. The initial rounds of treatment will be covered by the NHS, but women who remain on treatment after 15 months will then have the drug paid for by the manufacturer. Around 400 women per year are expected to be eligible for the treatment.
The Gurdon Institute's Prof. Steve Jackson, University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK Professor of Biology, who played a leading role in developing olaparib, welcomed NICE's decision.
"It is wonderful to learn that olaparib, a drug that was developed as a result of British science and innovation, is finally being made available through the NHS to certain ovarian cancer patients," he said.
"Times like this, when a new medicine becomes available, are important - most of all for the patients themselves, but also for everyone involved in cancer research, all the way from fundraisers to research scientists and clinicians."
"This news also increases my optimism about potential applications for olaparib in other cancers, as well as for the prospects of additional new anti-cancer medicines that are being developed through the joint efforts of charities, academic institutions and companies."
Clinical trials are in progress to test the use of Lynparza against several other types of cancer including gastric, prostate and breast.
Watch Jackson describe the science behind olaparib, which works by inhibiting the enzyme PARP in cells that are dependent on PARP to repair DNA damage.
More about current research in the Jackson lab.