LONDON, June 3: Scientists have made the biggest breakthrough in treating ovarian cancer or a decade after researchers found a way to shrink tumours.
Cancer patients who had run out of other options responded well to the new drug in a medical advance which experts have hailed as “exciting” and “promising”.
The drug – called ONX-0801 – was tested on 15 woman with advanced ovarian cancer in the first phase of a clinical trial run at the Institute of Cancer Research and Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London.
Its results were so good that researchers were keen to move the drug onto the next stage of testing as soon as possible.
Seven of the 15 cancer patients saw their tumours shrink. In patients whose tumours had the particular molecular target for the drug, the results were even more impressive, with seven out of 10 women responding.
ONX-0801 attacks ovarian cancer by mimicking folic acid to enter the cancer cells.
Dr Udai Banerji, deputy director of the drug development unit at the ICR and the Royal Marsden, who led the study, said much more research was needed but the results were exciting.
He said: “As this is a completely new mechanism of action it should add upward of six months to patients’ lives with minimal side-effects in extremely late phase ovarian cancer.
“This is much more than anything that has been achieved in the last 10 years.”
He said if clinical trials proved the drug’s effectiveness, it could potentially be used in early-stage disease where “the impact on survival may be better”.
Because the new therapy is so specifically targeted at cancer cells, it leaves healthy cells alone. This means it does not have the side-effects often seen with chemotherapy such as infections, diarrhoea, nerve damage and hair loss.
Experts have also created tests to detect the cells that will respond particularly well to the treatment, meaning doctors can identify those women who will benefit the most.
There were 7,378 new cases of ovarian cancer in the UK in 2014 and more than 4,000 women died from the disease.
Overall, only about half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer live for five years or more.-AGENCIES