The Scottish Medicine Consortium (SMC) has today approved a drug called Niraparib, providing new hope for women with recurrent ovarian cancer.
7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year, 597 in Scotland. New treatment options for the disease have been sorely needed to give women the best chance of survival.
Also known as Zejula, Niraparib is a new type of treatment called a PARP inhibitor. It stops ovarian cancer cells from multiplying and staves off progression, providing women with more time between chemotherapy treatments.
The SMC has approved this drug for women with recurrent ovarian cancer who do not carry a BRCA genetic mutation. This means the 15-20% of women living with ovarian cancer in Scotland who carry a BRCA mutation will not be able to access the drug. In England and Wales, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the drug for all women with recurrent ovarian cancer irrespective of their genetic status. However women in Scotland with a BRCA gene mutation will still be able to access another PARP inhibitor, Olaparib, which was approved by SMC in November 2016.
Ewa Gruszecka-Grant was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer six years ago. She began taking Niraparib following treatment for her second recurrence of ovarian cancer. She said: “It was clear to me by then that, when left without any treatment, the cancer cells immediately start growing again and that without treatment, it would probably be a matter of a very few months before I needed yet more chemo.
“Taking Niraparib, I feel I am least taking some action to suppress the cancer cells and can get on with life in the meantime. It buys precious time and feels more proactive, I guess! I feel healthy and can do all the things that are not possible when on chemo; I can travel, improve my Italian, go to the opera and hopefully see my niece again. She has just set out with her boyfriend on a year-long adventure travelling across Europe and Asia in a camper van!”
Ovarian Cancer Action was one of several charities contributing to the SMC’s decision, providing patient experience and expert input.
Marie-Claire Platt, Head of Campaigns at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: "This decision is groundbreaking for women in Scotland with recurrent ovarian cancer, who have previously had very limited treatment options. Access to this drug will provide women with not just more, but more quality time between treatments such as chemotherapy.
"However, limiting the treatment to those who do not carry a BRCA gene mutation leaves many Scottish women at a disadvantage. What this means, is that women with a BRCA gene mutation in England and Wales will have more treatment options than their counterparts. A postcode lottery when it comes to accessing life-enhancing drugs is unacceptable, and women in Scotland deserve better.”
Professor Iain McNeish, Director of the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre, said: “PARP inhibitors such as Niraparib are a new class of drug. By approving this maintenance treatment for women with platinum-sensitive relapsed ovarian cancer, the Scottish Medicine Consortium has dramatically changed the way medical professionals can treat patients and manage their survivorship. Ovarian cancer has an extremely high rate of recurrence, so it is vital we continue to focus our research efforts into early detection, personalised treatment and survivorship.”
If you are living with ovarian cancer, speak to your oncologist about whether this treatment could be for you.