Innovative treatment for gynaecological cancers approved for Cancer Drugs Fund

Olaparib, a medicine that has previously been used at a later stage in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer, has now been approved by NICE as a first-line maintenance treatment.

This positive recommendation affects adults with BRCA mutation-positive, advanced high-grade epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer that has responded to chemotherapy.

Currently around 700 women with advanced ovarian cancer are expected to benefit from this new treatment option.

Meindert Boysen, director of the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said “The availability of olaparib tablets as maintenance therapy is an important development in the management of BRCA mutation-positive advanced ovarian cancer. Olaparib is already used for ovarian cancer but is expected to have the greatest benefit when used early, and is considered to have the potential to cure the disease in some people if given before the first recurrence.”

“We are pleased that the company has agreed a commercial arrangement for olaparib that will allow it to be made available immediately to people who currently have an unmet need for maintenance treatment.”

Olaparib is a type of drug called a PARP inhibitor and works by preventing the PARP protein in cancer cells from repairing damaged DNA, causing the cancer cells to die. As a maintenance therapy, it is used to prevent the cancer returning after primary treatment. It is taken as a tablet twice-a-day.

The use of the Cancer Drugs Fund is needed while further data is collected from an ongoing clinical trial which so far estimates that olaparib delays disease progression by around 3 years compared with placebo. However, it is not known whether people taking olaparib live longer because those on the trial have not been followed-up for long enough.

John Stewart, NHS Director of Specialised Commissioning, said: “Olaparib has the potential to make a huge impact on the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer, giving patients a better chance of survival, and NHS England has worked closely with AstraZeneca and NICE to reach a deal that has clear benefits for those patients who would benefit, as well as industry and taxpayers.”

“Providing the latest cutting-edge treatments for patients through innovative drug deals is just one way the NHS Long Term Plan will transform cancer care across the country, building on the thousands more lives already being saved thanks to improving treatment.”