• Hugo Creeth

A Promising 'New' Drug for Prostate Cancer

Drug discovery has taken many leaps forward in the last century, from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928, to the modern day epigenetic drugs that pharmaceutical companies are channelling billions of pounds into researching.

It seems to be that every other day the news contains another story concerning a potential new therapy that is unavailable for use on the NHS. However this week the drug Olaparib is set to become a revolutionary drug for fighting prostate cancer.

Olaparib is made by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and after months of campaigning was fast tracked for use in the NHS in July to help treat women with ovarian cancer.

Precise Approach

At the time it was touted by doctors as a game changer in cancer treatment. It is now hoped that this precision medicine may offer hope to thousands of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.

Olaparib is a genetic targeting drug, that works by identifying cancer cells that contain faulty genetic code, and thus sparing normal cells that contain healthy DNA.

It isn’t a guaranteed cure for all men with prostate cancer. Those men diagnosed will need to undergo genetic testing to see if the cancer cells contain the appropriate DNA faults, specifically the well documented BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

The benefits of such a precise approach is that patients that will most likely benefit from Olaparib will be spared the potential side effects from other drugs that may not work as well for them.

The first trial of the drug showed promising results when compared to hormonal treatments. Men who took Olaparib appeared to have delayed cancer growth for months, even in advance cases. This may mean that even individuals with the most aggressive form of the cancer may be able to enjoy a longer future.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer affects 1 in 8 men during their lifetime. It is the most common form of cancer affecting men over 50. The risk of developing the condition increases steadily with age. Unlike more aggressive forms of cancer not all tumours need immediate treatment. Very often early stage diagnosis will be treated cautiously and involve careful monitoring rather than direct treatment.

Other cases can be more aggressive and need immediate treatment, although survival is high if caught early enough.

Prof Johann de Bono, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, who co-led the drug trial, said: "It's essential that we become smarter in the way we treat prostate cancer, so that every man gets the treatment that will be of greatest benefit for them."

Dr Matthew Hobbs, from the charity Prostate Cancer UK, said: "This hugely exciting result represents a revolution in the treatment of prostate cancer. It finally brings prostate cancer medicine into the 21st Century by giving us, for the first time ever, a therapy that makes use of genetic testing of the tumour to work out which men will benefit.

"This kind of precision medicine approach is already used to treat other cancers, and we hope olaparib will become the first of many treatments for prostate cancer which are based on this sort of detailed understanding of an individual man's tumour."

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