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'Milestone' ovarian cancer drug which can extend life expectancy licensed for use in the UK

Once-a-day pill gives women an extra year and a half before the disease returns

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Monday 18 December 2017 01:10 GMT
This type of cancer recurs after chemotherapy in roughly 85 per cent of women
This type of cancer recurs after chemotherapy in roughly 85 per cent of women (Alamy)

A pill which has the potential to buy an extra 16 months of life for women with ovarian cancer has been dubbed a “milestone” treatment, after it was licensed for use in the UK.

The once-daily pill Niraparib is part of a new class of cancer drugs, and quadruples the time it takes for cancer to return after chemotherapy.

Clinical trials found that in women with an inherited defect in the BRCA gene, which plays a key role in suppressing the formation of tumours, time to relapse increased from 5.5 months to 21 months.

In women without this mutation, time to relapse improved to a lesser extent, but was double compared to chemotherapy alone.

While the drug can now be bought and prescribed in the UK, it isn’t yet available on the NHS. That decision, for patients in England and Wales, will be taken by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which will weigh up the clinical effectiveness against the cost of any treatment.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium provides similar guidelines in Scotland.

Professor Jonathan Ledermann, from the University College London Cancer Institute and director at Cancer Research UK, said: “Niraparib is the first treatment of its class licensed to delay the progression of ovarian cancer following platinum-based chemotherapy, regardless of BRCA status.

“This represents a critical milestone in the management of ovarian cancer. Access to effective and tolerable medicines is sorely needed, and the hope is that Niraparib will be available on the NHS as quickly as possible.”

Ovarian cancer has been called a “silent killer” because it is often spotted late and at a deadly stage.

Each year around 7,400 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 4,128 die from the disease. Roughly 85 per cent of patients will experience recurrence after treatment.

Katherine Taylor, chief executive of the charity Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “The outlook for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer can be bleak. Current treatment lags behind other and better known cancers, and survival rates are low.

“Today’s news is an encouraging step in the right direction, but we now need to ensure all UK women diagnosed with recurrent platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer can benefit.

“We call upon NICE and the Scottish Medicines Consortium to approve this drug to provide more treatment options for those diagnosed with ovarian cancer – for many women this could be life changing.”

Additional reporting by PA

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