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New Drug Holds Promise In Some Cancer Cases


Results of a limited clinical trial of a new cancer drug may be encouraging for patients with some difficult types of cancer. The drug is called olaparib, and researchers say it disrupts the growth of cancer cells caused by an unusual genetic mutation.

Irina Slutsky had been treated unsuccessfully for recurring ovarian cancer, but she regained hope after she began taking olaparib.

Slutsky says, "I went from not being able to do anything for myself, hardly getting out of bed, to going back to full-time job and full-time mom, with all driving around and shopping and cooking and everything."

It took just a few months for her tumor to shrink and her pain to ease and Slutsky may not be the only one with cause for optimism.

People who carry the BRCA one or BRCA two genetic mutations, perhaps as many as one in 1,000, have a higher risk of cancer of the breast, ovary, pancreas and prostate.

Sixty women and men were enrolled in the first phase of the olaparib clinical trial, and only 22 carried the BRCA mutations.

All of the patients started on a small daily dose of olaparib. After three weeks, the dose for the BRCA patients was increased to 600 milligrams twice a day.

Researchers say tumors shrank in 40 percent of the BRCA patients with some of the most aggressive breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Olaparib works differently than other cancer drugs. As cells grow and multiply, they often become damaged. An enzyme called PARP normally aids in their repair, but olaparib inhibits the PARP enzyme in cancer cells that have the BRCA mutations.

Dr. Eric Winer of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute says the drug is especially good news for women.

Dr. Winer explains, "These results were seen in women who oftentimes had the most difficult to treat cancers."

The researchers say it's too early to tell if olaparib is a miracle drug. They say more trials are needed before the drug's effectiveness is confirmed.

The study was conducted by doctors in Britain and was financially supported by a subsidiary of drug manufacturer, AstraZeneca. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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