Stephenson Cancer Center leads groundbreaking ovarian cancer study

Published: Friday, November 2, 2018 By: Staff Reports

A physician-scientist at Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine co-directed an international clinical trial that yielded findings considered unprecedented in the field of gynecological cancer. The study's findings were published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The research is groundbreaking because it showed that a targeted cancer therapy helped a subset of women with ovarian cancer live three years longer without a cancer recurrence than those who did not receive the therapy. That length of cancer-free survival has never been seen in an ovarian cancer study. Kathleen Moore, M.D., served as one of two international principal investigators for the SOLO-1 study, which evaluated the use of olaparib, a PARP inhibitor that targets cancer cells without affecting normal cells.

"It's exciting to work in a place where we can conduct research and clinical trials that will allow each patient to have the best chance at fighting their cancer," said Moore, who is associate director for clinical research at the Stephenson Cancer Center. "This study is an example of how transformative research can improve the lives of women who have been or will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer."

Cancer cells divide rapidly in a person's body, but they make many mistakes in the process and must repair those mistakes in order to live. Olaparib takes away one of the key proteins needed for the cancer cell to fix these mistakes. In the study, olaparib was given to women with advanced stage ovarian cancer who also have a BRCA mutation. Women with the mutation face a higher risk of cancer but, ironically, the mutation also means their cancer will respond better to chemotherapy.

Olaparib was given as maintenance therapy following patients' first round of chemotherapy to determine if it would improve survival time without a return of cancer.

"Women with ovarian cancer often have remarkable responses to their first round of chemotherapy, and they can do well for quite a while," Moore said. "The challenge is that in the vast majority of patients, the disease will recur. It's still treatable when it recurs, but it's typically no longer curable. One of our highest unmet needs is finding things we can do during that first treatment to optimize the length of time that a woman survives without disease."

The clinical trial began in 2013, and the Stephenson Cancer Center was one of dozens of sites worldwide that enrolled patients. Women in the study, after responding well to chemotherapy, were randomized to receive either olaparib or a placebo pill, and neither the physicians nor the patients knew which they were receiving. The patients were followed on their assigned treatments for up to two years or until the time of disease recurrence, whichever came first.

As expected, women who received the placebo pill survived for an average of 13.5 months

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