NHS approves Olaparib drug to treat ‘Jolie gene’ in major boost for breast cancer patients

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Olaparib can extend the life of some advanced cancer patients by an “average of six months”

Thousands of cancer patients will benefit from a new drug that can prevent tumours from spreading following a landmark NHS deal.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last year opted not to recommend Olaparib because of its high price tag, but after NHS England struck a deal with AstraZeneca to offer the drug at an undisclosed discount, the regulator reversed its decision.

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It means that hundreds of women with HER2-negative early breast cancer who are at high risk of the disease returning will be able to access the treatment through the NHS in England.

The Olaparib drug is given as a tablet and is a type of drug called a Parp inhibitor, which prevents cancer cells from repairing, and it targets cancers with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations -  also known as the “Jolie gene”. Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, 47, chose to undergo a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA gene.

The drug targets cancers with the BRCA mutations and works by stopping cells from repairing their DNA, thereby causing the cancerous cells to die. Targeted treatment has been shown to reduce the risk of the BRCA-mutant HER2-negative early cancer returning within four years by nearly a third.

Olaparib targets cancers with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations -  also known as the “Jolie gene” (Photo: Getty Images)Olaparib targets cancers with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations -  also known as the “Jolie gene” (Photo: Getty Images)
Olaparib targets cancers with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations -  also known as the “Jolie gene” (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Olaparib, also known as Lynparza, can also benefit men with advanced prostate cancer, with clinical trials showing it can extend patients’ lives by “an average of six months”, according to NHS England. It is estimated about 550 men with advanced prostate cancer and 300 women with HER2-negative early breast cancer will be eligible for the new drug each year in England.

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NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Olaparib could have a huge impact on patients with a range of cancer types, giving many a better chance of survival while offering those with advanced forms of the disease precious extra months to live.”

The decision to approve the drug has been overwhelmingly welcomed by cancer charities and scientists, with experts at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) describing the decision as “life-changing”.

Johann De Bono, professor in experimental cancer medicine at the ICR, said: “Olaparib is an important example of how understanding the underlying genetics of patients, and their tumours’ genomics, can be used to design highly targeted precision medicines. For patients with advanced prostate cancer and mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, these recommendations will be life-changing.”

Breast Cancer Now said the wait to receive a decision on the drug’s approval was “agonising” because there was a provisional rejection last November, adding that it’s use could stop people from dying.

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Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at the charity, said: “Some people with high-risk, HER2 negative primary breast cancer with an altered BRCA gene – often known as the ’Jolie gene’, may see their cancer return following treatment.

“Crucially, olaparib can reduce the risk of people’s cancer returning or progressing to incurable secondary breast cancer and stop people dying from this devastating disease.”

Elsewhere, Prostate Cancer UK hailed the approval as a “landmark moment” which could “extend the lives of hundreds of men each year” and said “it finally moves us away from the old ‘one size fits all’ approach” to treating cancer patients.

Health Minister Helen Whately added: “We are committed to providing world-class cancer care to patients and are always working together with clinicians to find new, cutting-edge treatments.

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“Cutting waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities and we are driving forward progress with new one-stop shops that offer a range of checks, tests and scans closer to home, meaning patients are receiving the cancer treatment they need as soon as possible.”

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