Protein can improve targeting of ovarian cancer drug, scientists say

Scientists have discovered a protein which could improve the success rate of one of the most common drugs used to fight ovarian cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council found that the loss of a protein called TGFBI caused paclitaxel to fail.

The drug is a common chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer but only half of patients with the disease respond well to the therapy.

Experts based at the Cambridge Research Institute at Cambridge University looked at ovarian cancer cell lines and data from 20 patients in a prospective trial.

Those who showed no response to the drug had less TGFBI in their pre-treatment samples, compared with those whose condition improved.

Post-treatment studies showed that the death of cancer cells happened when there were high levels of the protein.

The study of 20 patients at Addenbrooke's Hospital suggests that patients who lack the protein could be spared chemotherapy that will not benefit them.

Dr James Brenton, lead researcher and clinician, said: "TGFBI is lost in one third of primary ovarian cancers and it is possible that this protein could be used as a biomarker for selecting patients likely to respond to this class of drug.

"Our findings offer hope not only for improved ovarian cancer treatment, it may also lead to improvements in the success rate of other taxane drugs used to treat lung and breast cancer."

Prof Herbie Newell, Cancer Research UK's director of translational research, said: "We are entering a period of cancer treatment where more drugs are targeted at those people who will benefit the most.

"This personalised medicine approach potentially means treatments will be more effective with fewer side effects.

"This is really important for diseases like ovarian cancer that can be challenging to treat."