2014 Clinical Advances in Ovarian Cancer
The Clearity Foundation
Cory Bentley, PhD
What has happened to the promising drugs that we have described in Clearity Survivor newsletters since 2010? Plenty. One has succeeded all the way to approval by the FDA. Several have shown anti-cancer activity in patients and continue to advance in clinical trials. Alas, some have failed. This article will highlight some of the most important developments in ovarian cancer treatment this year.
For the first time in 15 years, the FDA approved a new drug for patients who have platinum resistant disease. That drug is Avastin, which is anti-angiogenic; it works by interfering with new blood vessel formation – a key way for tumors to get nutrients as they grow. The phase III trial of Avastin, coined AURELIA, showed that the addition of Avastin improved both PFS (progression free survival) and ORR (overall response rate) compared to treatment with chemotherapy alone. (See the results for this trial and other trials testing anti-angiogenic treatments by clicking here). Progression free survival (PFS) is the time from start of treatment until the tumor starts to grow. Overall response rate (ORR) is the percent of patients that show a partial response to treatment (some tumor shrinkage) or complete response (tumor no longer detectable). In this trial, Avastin was paired with a chemotherapy – Topotecan, Doxil, or Paclitaxel. Each pairing with Avastin led to an increased PFS of about two-fold compared to chemotherapy alone. A tumor blueprint can help guide the selection of one of these chemotherapeutic agents. In the future, there may also be a test that can predict if patients will respond to Avastin. At this year’s annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, researchers from Scotland reported that they had identified a tumor signature of Avastin response and studies to confirm those results are underway.
Another big story for ovarian cancer in 2014 relates to olaparib (Lynparza), a member of a class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors. Based on the review by European Medicines Agency in October, the European Union is expected to approve olaparib for the maintenance treatment of BRCA-mutated platinum sensitive relapsed ovarian cancer. Although the FDA chose not to approve this drug for use in the maintenance setting US based on the data from the phase II trial (they often wait for more rigorously performed phase III studies before approving a new drug), there is still optimism that PARP inhibitors will be therapeutic options in the US in the near future. The clinical trial results available for PARP inhibitors indicate that these drugs will be useful to treat patients with existing disease as well for those who are in remission. There are currently at least 20 ongoing clinical trials of PARP inhibitors either by themselves or combined with other drugs. Peruse them all by selecting PARP1/2 in the Molecular Target menu on the Clearity Foundation website.