Close-up of a researcher wearing protective goggles while using equipment in a lab

Major cancer conference announces treatment progress

News from the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) conference means more women could be able to access innovative treatments earlier.

Three announcements on the benefits of a new generation of ovarian cancer drugs, PARP inhibitors, were made over the weekend at the research conference in Barcelona. They work by stopping cancer cells from repairing themselves, effectively crippling them. Although the results are promising, these are results of clinical trials and the treatments are not yet available on the NHS. 

A separate announcement about trials of a new treatment for low grade serous ovarian cancer, trametinib, also demonstrated that this drug could become a viable option in treating this less common form of ovarian cancer. 

A new generation of ovarian cancer treatments 

Two PARP inhibitors olaparib (Lynparza®) and niraparib (Zejula®) are currently available on the NHS, but in most cases women have to wait until after a second round of chemotherapy before they can access these drugs. PARP inhibitors are maintenance treatments, meaning they are given after chemotherapy and aim to stop or slow the growth of the cancer. 

At the ESMO conference it was announced that both olaparib and niraparib have successfully concluded major clinical trials of first-line treatment . That means they may soon become eligible for consideration on the NHS from when a woman is newly diagnosed and has had a first round of chemotherapy, and for a larger group of women with ovarian cancer than ever before – with or without a BRCA mutation

A third PARP inhibitor veliparib also reported success in clinical trials at the conference. This drug is not yet used in the UK but may also become eligible for consideration on the NHS.

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

Today’s announcements represent a paradigm shift in the treatment of ovarian cancer. The scale and impact of the announcements are clear: this new generation of drugs will benefit more women than ever before from the time they are diagnosed. We now need to see these treatments available on the NHS across the UK as soon as possible.

Potential new treatment for low grade serous ovarian cancer

Low grade serous ovarian cancer is a less common type of ovarian cancer that affects around 5–10 per cent of women diagnosed every year. Results from a clinical trial also presented at the ESMO conference showed trametinib, previously used to treat melanoma, could be a new treatment. It is a type of drug called a MEK inhibitor, and works by blocking an abnormal signal in the cancer cell that causes it to multiply in an uncontrolled fashion.

Rebecca Rennison, Director of Public Affairs and Services at Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

This is very positive news. There is a real lack of treatment options for less common types of ovarian cancer like low grade serous ovarian cancer. New, effective cancer drugs are urgently required. We now need to see these treatments available on the NHS across the UK as soon as possible.

When will this become available on the NHS?

If these drugs became available they could change the treatment pathway to give women with ovarian cancer more options. We'll be following the outcomes of these trials closely and we hope to see them available on the NHS as soon as possible.