In 2019, an estimated 46,000 Americans died from pancreatic cancer. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Lynparza, an ovarian cancer drug developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, to treat patients with advanced stages of the disease.
Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president of AstraZeneca’s oncology business unit said, “Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer historically have faced poor outcomes due to the aggressive nature of the disease and limited treatment advances over the last few decades.”
Research has suggested that certain variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase one’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer. With normal versions of these genes producing proteins that regulate cells’ ability to both identify and repair damaged DNA, certain variants are unable to do this. These thus lead to the production of malfunctioning proteins, which in turn allow healthy cells to transform into cancer cells, and form tumors.
To combat this process, researchers developed Lynparza, a Poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor. A protein that repairs a different type of DNA damage than BRCA variants, it disables cells with faulty BRCA from repairing themselves, meaning that, rather than developing into cancer cells, they simply die.
Clinical trials investigating the drug’s efficacy were positive. Victoria Manax MD., the Chief Medical Officer of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) said, “The clinical trial results showed a certain subset of metastatic pancreatic cancer patients had a good response to a PARP inhibitor called Lynparza (olaparib) if their tumor had already responded to platinum-containing chemotherapy.”
She continued, “In the 151 patients treated through this trial, 22.1 percent of patients who received Lynparza had no disease progression two years after starting the treatment, as compared to 9.6 percent of patients who did not receive Lynparza.”
An effective treatment option for those with germline BRCA mutations, the drug should be able to treat between 4 and 7% of pancreatic cancer patients. Julie Fleshman, President and CEO of PanCAN said, “Lynparza is a great example of this big step forward in improving patient outcomes and further confirms the need for all patients to get appropriate testing to determine the best treatment option for them.”