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Drug Combination May Be Highly Effective in Treating Recurrent Ovarian Cancer


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Research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting suggests that the use of a combination drug therapy can provide significant improve­ment in women who have recurrent ovarian cancer.

A study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute compared the effec­tiveness of a combination of the drug olaparib (which blocks DNA repair) and the blood vessel inhibitor drug cediranib to the effectiveness of olaparib alone. Results showed a near doubling of progression-free survival benefit (the length of time during and after treatment that the cancer did not get worse) for the combination therapy over the use of the single drug alone.

“The findings of this study are excit­ing because they support the idea that combining these two targeted oral ther­apies results in significant activity in ovarian cancer, more so than olaparib alone,” says Joyce Liu, MD, MPH, the study’s lead investigator and medical oncologist at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA. “We are looking forward to further explor­ing this combination in ovarian cancer and potentially increasing effective treatment options for our patients with this cancer.”

In the study, 90 women with recurrent ovarian cancer were randomly assigned to one of two study arms, the first taking capsules of olaparib (400 mg twice daily) and the other taking a combination of the two drugs (200 mg olaparib in cap­sule form twice daily and 30 mg of cediranib by tablets once daily). Study participants, whose median age was 58, were enrolled from October 2011 to June 2013. As of March 2014, median progression-free survival was 9.2 months for the olaparib group and 17.7 months for the combination therapy group, which is a significant advantage. Although participants on the combination therapy experienced more side effects – most commonly fatigue, diarrhea, and hyper­tension – these side effects were all manageable.

“Of particular note is the fact that both drugs used in this trial are in pill form and could offer an alternative to intra­venous chemotherapy,” says Percy Ivy, MD, associate chief of NCI’s Investiga­tional Drug Branch. “Therefore, this combination therapy could be used anywhere in the world where patients can be safely monitored for the side effects of olaparib and cediranib, such as diarrhea and hypertension.”

Based on the results of this study, two phase III trials are being planned to study women with platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant ovarian cancer by the NRG Oncology Group, one of NCI’s new National Cancer Trial Network Groups.

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2014.