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Lynparza to benefit more people with breast cancer in Yorkshire

First developed with funding from Yorkshire Cancer Research, Lynparza is an innovative drug that has been helping to treat cancer for almost a decade.

In this blog post, we share some exciting updates from the last few months, and how this drug is now saving and improving the lives of more people with cancer in Yorkshire.

How does Lynparza work?

Lynparza, also known as Olaparib, is a type of cancer drug known as a ‘PARP inhibitor’. PARP is an important protein which helps damaged cells to repair themselves. However, some cancer cells rely on PARP to survive and grow.

The drug works by stopping the PARP protein from fixing damage in the cancer cells that have developed due to mutations in a gene called the ‘BRCA gene’. This means the cells stop growing and dividing and are more likely to die.

It is often used alongside other treatments or after other treatments have been tried.

What is the BRCA gene?

BRCA genes repair damage in cells, and prevent them from growing or dividing too quickly, which helps prevent cancer developing.

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but sometimes faulty versions of these genes, known as mutations, occur. These mutations are often passed down through families but can also happen spontaneously.

BRCA genes with mutations are unable to repair damaged cells, meaning that faulty cells can grow and multiply. Over time, these faulty cells can develop into cancer.

BRCA genes were first discovered because mutations in these genes increased risk of breast cancer, hence they were called ‘BReast CAncer’ genes. Since then, it has also been discovered that people with a mutation in one of their BRCA genes are at a higher risk of some other cancers, including ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

But many people are not aware that they have a BRCA mutation and are at increased risk of cancer - currently in the UK only people with a family history of certain types of cancer are offered genetic testing.

The History of Lynparza

Lynparza was created following research funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and led by Professor Thomas Helleday in the 2000s, which indicated that cancers with BRCA mutations could be particularly vulnerable to treatment with PARP inhibitors.

In 2014, Lynparza was first approved to help treat women who had ovarian cancer with a BRCA mutation. It was the first PARP inhibitor to be licensed for patient use on the NHS.

Since then, the drug has been approved to treat some prostate and pancreatic cancers with BRCA mutations, and further clinical trials have been exploring whether the drug can be used to treat other BRCA-related cancers.

Important results from the OlympiA trial

One of the most recent trials exploring how Lynparza could be used to treat more cancers, is a major international clinical trial called ‘OlympiA’. In 2022, results from OlympiA showed that Lynparza is effective for people with early-stage breast cancer with BRCA gene mutations.

The OlympiA trial demonstrated that, among people with high-risk early breast cancer previously treated with chemotherapy, the number of people surviving four years after the beginning of treatment was higher in those who took Lynparza compared to people receiving a placebo (dummy drug).

Lynparza also reduced the chances of breast cancer coming back or spreading to other parts of the body.

These exciting results from the OlympiA trial led to the drug being approved for use in the USA and across Europe last year for people with the BRCA mutation and high-risk early-stage breast cancer.

In May 2023, the National Institute of Health & Care Excellence (NICE) approved Lynparza for use within the NHS in England and Wales. The approval is for people with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, who have ‘high-risk, early stage’ breast cancer, which means there is a higher risk of the breast cancer coming back.

About 5 to 10% of people with breast cancer have a BRCA mutation, and we estimate that up to 370 people in Yorkshire with early-stage breast cancer and BRCA gene mutations could benefit each year from this new treatment that could save and extend lives.

Who else could benefit from Lynparza?

Lynparza will soon be reaching people with early breast cancer, but it could also benefit people whose breast cancer has already spread to other parts of the body – known as metastatic or advanced breast cancer.

A previous clinical trial has shown that Lynparza can delay the progression of metastatic breast cancer in people with BRCA mutations. Lynparza is approved for treating metastatic breast cancer in America and Europe – but it hasn’t yet been approved in the UK.

It could also benefit people with advanced prostate cancer. Despite NICE rejecting the use of Lynparza in this group of people with cancer in England and Wales, it is available in Scotland and future clinical trials may reveal new evidence which could allow more people to get access to Lynparza.

Every cancer breakthrough starts with research

It is thanks to our supporters that 20 years ago we were able to support the development of Lynparza. Thanks to your continued support and donations, Yorkshire Cancer Research can keep advancing treatments for cancer, giving Yorkshire more life to live.

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