Saint John's Health Center (File photo)

A drug newly approved for a certain type of advanced prostate cancer is a game-changer, according to Providence Saint John’s Health Center oncologist Przemyslaw Twardowski, M.D., who co-authored a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Federal Drug Administration on May 19 approved olaparib, an oral medication previously restricted for certain breast and ovarian cancers, for use in about 25 percent of advanced prostate cancer cases. These patient are those whose cancers involve a DNA repair abnormality, have spread to other parts of the body and are resistant to treatments that reduce male hormones.

“We’ve already prescribed it for a couple of patients who have these mutations,” said Dr. Twardowski, a member of research team at the hospital’s John Wayne Cancer Institute. “We were running out of standard treatments.”

In a phase 3 trial, sponsored by bio-pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and involving 387 patients, olaparib extended patients’ lives while maintaining quality of life. This study ran from February 2017 to November 2018, followed by months of data analysis to determine results.

“That is our holy grail – extending life and delaying symptoms, including pain,” Dr. Twardowski said. “It’s a step forward, not a cure, it’s a life extension. It gives these patients the gift of time.”

The announcement comes during the Men’s Health Month, observed nationally in June. As part of the Providence system, the John Wayne Cancer Institute will shared this expertise across the organization’s 51 hospitals in seven Western states.

What stands out about this success is that the drug is specifically used to combat cancer where a defined DNA mutations exists.

Olaparib is one of the first drugs that specifically targets these mutations. It outperformed standard treatments, delaying progression and symptoms that can frequently involve bone pain related to metastases.  Importantly, side effects – primarily nausea and anemia – were mild, especially when compared to more difficult cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

“In treating prostate cancer, until this particular example, we have only used drugs where one size fits all,” Dr. Twardowski said. “This is the first time we can apply treatment based on detailed analysis of patients’ cancer specimens and use the drug in cases with specific, well defined DNA mutations, changes. And that seems to be the critical point where this drug really works.”

Submitted by Patricia Aidem

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