Astra drug slows ovarian cancer progression -study

Wed May 18, 2011 6:00pm EDT

(For full coverage of new data on cancer studies to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, see: [ID:nN18285243] )

* Experimental drug olaparib is a PARP inhibitor

* Median progression-free survival 8.4 months for olaparib

* Median progression-free survival 4.8 months for placebo

By Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK, May 18 (Reuters) - An experimental AstraZeneca (AZN.L) drug significantly delayed progression of a common and aggressive form of ovarian cancer in patients who had responded to chemotherapy, according to data to be presented at a major oncology meeting.

The drug, olaparib, which was tested in a Phase II trial as a so-called maintenance therapy, improved progression-free survival by almost four months in women who had already received at least two courses of platinum-based chemotherapy, according to data from an abstract, or brief summary, of the study released on Wednesday.

Those who received 400 milligrams of olaparib twice a day had a median progression-free survival, or the amount of time before the cancer returns or worsens, of 8.4 months. That compared with 4.8 months for patients who were taking a placebo.

The results were considered by researchers to be highly statistically significant.

Results of the study, if confirmed in larger trials, could lead to use of olaparib to prevent recurrences or prolong remission in recurrent ovarian cancer.

Many cancer drugs are now being tested as maintenance therapies, which could vastly increase sales of the medicines compared with use in a finite treatment regimen.

"A well-tolerated antitumor agent that could be used for months or perhaps years as maintenance therapy after standard chemotherapy could be a big step forward and ultimately extend survival," Dr. Jonathan Ledermann, the study's primary investigator, said in a statement.

Overall survival data was not yet available from the study, which included 265 patients with the most common form of ovarian cancer who had maintained a partial or complete response to chemotherapy.

The study will be presented next month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.

Side effects more common to olaparib than placebo included nausea, fatigue, vomiting and anemia.

Olaparib belongs to a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors that help kill cancer cells by blocking an enzyme important in repairing DNA damage.

"My guess is that this drug, and drugs in its class, will find a very important place in prolonging remission in ovarian cancer," ASCO Chief Executive Dr. Allen Lichter told reporters on a conference call. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot, additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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