Cancer drugsWomen with BRCA mutated ovarian cancer look set to miss out on a “world-first drug” that could improve their quality of life, following the latest consultation by NICE.

Olaparib is a PARP inhibitor and is the first cancer drug to be approved that is directed against an inherited genetic mutation. The condition affects about 400 women a year. Evidence suggested olaparib could delay the return of symptoms for 7 months.

Commenting on the results of the consultation Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, said that the difficulty in the drug approvals process for innovative drugs needs to be looked at, especially as the drug has already been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

“We remain disappointed that women with ovarian cancer and mutations to their BRCA genes are still not being granted this world-first drug on the NHS,” he said. “I'd urge NICE and the manufacturer to keep talking and do everything they can to make the drug available.

“It is at least positive that NICE is actively listening to evidence submitted through consultations, and seems to be looking for ways to make olaparib available. The latest announcement offers a glimmer of hope that some women with ovarian cancer will eventually get access to olaparib, which was underpinned by science conducted here at the ICR.

“But even if the latest ‘no’ from NICE is reversed for some women, olaparib would still only be available for women after several rounds of chemotherapy – meaning there will be many who miss out on its quality-of life-benefits earlier in the course of treatment, or do not access it at all.”

Cancer survival rates lagging behind

The news follows on from a recent study by Cancer Research UK and published in the British Journal of Cancer that found cancer survival in England is behind other similar countries.

The research, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, compared survival for colon, breast, lung, ovarian, rectal and stomach cancers in England, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden between 1995 and 2009, and survival trends in England up to 2012. It included more than 1.9 million cancer patients in England and another 1.9 million from the other 5 countries.

Of all 6 countries, cancer survival was lowest in England. Overall, Australia and Sweden had the highest rate of survival.

However, England’s survival rate continues to improve. Five-year survival from breast cancer improved more in England than in the 4 leading countries. And survival for all cancers except ovarian improved faster in England than Australia.

Lead author Dr Sarah Walters, from the Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The way England’s cancer survival has improved shows promise, but it’s vital that more is done to ensure England closes this gap and that more people survive cancer for longer. The rapid improvements we’ve seen over the past 20 years have been driven by better investment, setting and measuring targets within the NHS, and developing new ways to diagnose and treat cancer. If we are to improve further it is vital we continue to work on these areas.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “Not only is England struggling to excel on an international level – there’s also too much variation across the country in the speed with which patients are diagnosed and whether they can get the treatments they need.

“The good news is that it seems previous improvements – in cancer awareness, services and treatments – mean we’re now seeing some improvements in survival. But we must do more of what we’re learning works. This means providing world-class funding for our cancer services and these services working together more effectively, if we want to achieve world class cancer survival.”

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