Healthcare: On the Agenda - Promising cancer remedy trialled

In a nutshell

Scientists have created a drug that is being heralded as a 'completely new type of cancer treatment'. Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital have completed a Phase I clinical trial showing promising results. The trial was completed in conjunction with pharma firm AstraZeneca.

What have they found?

Patients with inherited forms of advanced breast, ovarian and prostate cancers - caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes - were treated with the new drug olaparib (a PARP inhibitor). Tumours in more than half of the patients shrank or stabilised. One of the first patients treated is still in remission after two years.

Why is this important?

Olaparib targets the cancer cells but leaves healthy cells relatively unscathed. Importantly, patients experienced few side-effects and some reported it was 'much easier than chemotherapy'. Olaparib is the first successful example of a new type of personalised medicine using 'synthetic lethality', where the treatment works in tandem with a patient's own specific molecular defect.

PR strategy

The ICR sent out a press release to national and trade press. ICR science press officer Jane Bunce led the in-house team and handled media calls. The press office also prepared information for patients on the trial.

Media coverage

The story was covered on BBC Breakfast, Sky News and ITN, as well as on NBC in the US. The Daily Mail, The Independent and FT also ran the story. The BBC Health website's headline said the new drug 'shows promise'.

85% the risk of women with a BRCA gene mutation developing breast cancer.

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