News Release
May 15, 2013

PARP Inhibitor Shows Activity in Pancreatic, Prostate Cancers Among Patients Carrying BRCA Mutations

Results of clinical trial led by Penn Medicine reveal new potential therapy for advanced cancers

PHILADELPHIA — In the largest clinical trial to date to examine the efficacy of PARP inhibitor therapy in BRCA 1/2 carriers with diseases other than breast and ovarian cancer, the oral drug olaparib was found to be effective against advanced pancreatic and prostate cancers. Results of the study, led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, will be presented during the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago in early June (Abstract #11024).

The multi-center research team, including investigators from across the United States, Europe, Australia and Israel, studied nearly 300 patients with inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who had advanced cancers that were still growing despite standard treatments. Study participants, comprised of patients with breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and other cancers, all took olaparib.

“Our results show that the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes inherited by some patients can actually be the Achilles heel in a novel, personalized approach to treat any type of cancer the patient has,” says the study’s senior author, Susan Domchek, MD, director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “As many as 3 percent of patients with pancreatic and prostate cancer have an inherited mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Our findings have implications for many patients beyond those with breast and ovarian cancer.”

Five of 23 pancreatic cancer patients (22 percent) and four of eight prostate cancer patients (50 percent) responded to the therapy, as measured by objective clinical criteria. Importantly, the therapy also appeared to halt disease progression even in those whose tumors did not shrink: an additional eight (35 percent) of the pancreatic cancer patients studied had stable disease at 8 weeks after beginning olaparib, as did two (25 percent) of the prostate patients. Overall survival at one year was 41 percent for the pancreatic cancer patients, and 50 percent for the prostate cancer patients.

For patients with breast and ovarian cancer, the study confirmed the previously reported activity of olaparib, although tumors treated in this study were much more advanced than in prior studies. For example, in 193 patients with ovarian cancer in whom cisplatin was no longer effective for controlling advanced disease, 31 percent had partial or complete tumor regression on olaparib, and 64 percent were alive at one year. Among 62 patients with metastatic breast cancer patients who had already received at least three chemotherapy regimens, 13 percent responded to new therapy and 45 percent of patients were alive at one year.

The authors found that treatment with olaparib is very well-tolerated. The most commonly reported side effects were mild to moderate fatigue and nausea (each experienced by 59 percent of patients), and transient episodes of vomiting (37 percent). Seventeen percent of patients experienced anemia, and four percent of patients suffered side effects that led to discontinuation of therapy.

As of January 2013, 33 patients remained on the study.

 “This study underscores a new paradigm in cancer therapy. We can better fashion treatments for our patients based on a personalized assessment of the genetic factors underlying the cancer,” Domchek says. “PARP inhibitors such as olaparib represent the most promising new treatment for individuals suffering from cancer based on inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.”

The results will be presented by lead author Bella Kaufman, MD, from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, in the Tumor Biology poster session from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, June 3, 2013 in S102 McCormick Place.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.

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