In a groundbreaking study, a drug called Lynparza (Olaparib) wa found to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence in BRCA gene mutation carriers. The pill, which is classed as a PARP inhibitor, was developed by AstraZeneca and Merck.
PARP inhibitors block the cancer cell’s ability to repair its own DNA. This means if a cancer cell is damaged by a treatment like chemotherapy or radiation, it will be unable to repair itself and will die.
The clinical study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, began in 2014 and enrolled a total of 1,836 women. All the study participants were carriers of a BRCA gene mutation and had a history of early stage HER2-negative breast cancers. All patients had undergone breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy and were also considered at high risk for breast cancer recurrence based on their tumor size or lymph node involvement.
Half of the study participants were given Lynparza daily for a year. The other half received a placebo. A little over two years after the beginning of treatment, the study found that the women taking Lynparza saw a 42% reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrence or death. The study also reported that at 3 years after beginning treatment, 85.9% of Lynparza users were still living without evidence of a recurrence, compared to 77.1% of women who received the placebo.
As it stands today, AstraZeneca will be submitting the results of this study to regulators to request approval for use in early-stage breast cancer patients with a BRCA genetic mutation. Currently the drug is approved by the FDA to treat advanced-stage breast cancer in BRCA gene mutation carriers.