Early trial of new ovarian cancer drug gives “promising results”
A new treatment for ovarian cancer may prolong the life expectancy of those with the disease, after it was shown to shrink tumours in half the sample of women who took part in the trial.
The drug could be hugely beneficial for women with advanced stages of the cancer who no longer respond to standard treatment.
It was tested by a team at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who used it in 15 women with ovarian cancer as part of a wider clinical trial.
It is unusual to see clinical responses in phase I trials, which are used as a way of testing a drug’s safety, but in this instance the drug, known as ONX-0801, shrunk tumours in seven of the 15 cancer patients.
With patients whose tumours had the specific molecular target for the drug, seven out of 10 women responded positively.
Study leader Dr Udai Banerji said: “The results we have seen in this trial are very promising. The beauty of this particular drug is that it is targeted to the cancer cell. This means there are fewer side-effects, making it a kinder treatment for ovarian cancer patients.”
Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR added: “It’s really exciting to see such positive results in an early-stage trial. It looks a highly promising treatment with the potential to have huge benefits for women with ovarian cancer, and I’m very keen to see it progress to later stage trials.”
The results of the trial were presented on June 3 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.
ONX-0801 is the first in a new class of drugs discovered at the ICR, and works by entering the cancer cells by mimicking folic acid before blocking a molecule called thymidylate synthase and causing irreparable DNA damage.
Ovarian cancer cells have an abnormally large number of receptors for folic acid, so they are particularly targeted by the treatment.
An added benefit of the drug is that healthy cells are left alone, reducing side effects such as infections, diarrhoea, nerve damage and hair loss, all commonly seen with traditional chemotherapy.
The researchers also identified tests to detect tumours with high levels of the specific alpha folate receptor, so women most likely to benefit can be selected for treatment.
Now, the team are looking for partners to fund next-stage clinical trials in order to see if the drug can have benefits for survival for patients with both ovarian cancer and other cancers.
Marianne Health, 68, who participated in the trial, said: “I had no other treatment choices so I felt this [participating in the trial] was my only option. I had quite a bit of chemotherapy, and now some radiotherapy. There’s nothing left but trials now.
“It gives me and my family buzz when we are told my scans look better. I just want to keep going so I can keep the tumours at a level where I can enjoy my life.”