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Ovarian cancer drug Niraparib approved for NHS use

01 June 2018


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have today announced that a new drug, Niraparib, has been recommended for use in the Cancer Drugs Fund as an option for maintenance treatment of platinum-sensitive relapsed high grade serous epithelial ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Action is delighted with this decision as it brings hope to hundreds of women with ovarian cancer in England and Wales. We hope that the rest of the UK will soon follow suit to allow more women access to this drug. Here we take a look at Niraparib and what it means for women with ovarian cancer.

What is Niraparib?

Niraparib is a PARP inhibitor. This means it blocks the action of enzymes called PARP-1 and PARP-2 that help to repair damaged DNA in cells when they divide to make new cells. By blocking PARP enzymes, the damaged DNA in cancer cells cannot be repaired, and the cells die.

Previously, PARP inhibitors have only been available for women with ovarian cancer with a BRCA gene mutation. Niraparib is the first PARP inhibitor to be available more widely. 

Who will benefit from the availability of Niraparib?

Niraparib has been approved for women with the most common type of ovarian cancer – high grade serous non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer. It is available for women regardless of whether they have a BRCA gene mutation or not, so both BRCA positive and BRCA negative women are eligible for the drug if they have not previously been prescribed PARP Inhibitors as part of their treatment.

The treatment will be made available for women who have a platinum-sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer, and who have responded to a round of chemotherapy since their ovarian cancer recurred. 

What are the benefits of this drug for women with ovarian cancer?

When Niraparib was trialled on women who had ovarian cancer two main things were seen:

  • Women lived a significantly longer time without their disease worsening 
  • A significantly increased time between treatments, meaning a longer chemotherapy-free interval 

These two factors represent a huge step for women with recurrent ovarian cancer, where options are limited, with very little progress made over the last 40 years.

Delaying the speed at which the disease progresses, means that women can feel better and healthier for longer, and experience reduced symptoms. The increase in time between chemotherapy means fewer trips to hospital to receive treatment, avoiding the side effects that come with it.

These are hugely important benefits because it means women can enjoy a better quality of life that allows them to spend valuable time with their friends and family, and plan experiences they would otherwise be prevented from.

The sheer number of hospital visits all cancer patients have to endure causes huge disruption to day to day life of both them and their families, and makes it very difficult to plan ahead. The reduced number of visits that result from the increased time between chemotherapy, combined with the fact that Niraparib is taken at home in pill form would provide considerable relief from hospital visits, allowing women to get on with enjoying life and planning for the future. 

Are there any side effects?

Like with any other type of cancer treatment there are some side effects to Niraparib. However, the trials showed that the quality of life of women who used the drug was not significantly impacted on as a result. Patients are regularly monitored throughout their time using it, and the dose can be altered accordingly if adverse effects are seen.

When will it be made available?

The drug is available from today, and women who think they might be eligible for it under their current circumstances should discuss the possibility with their gynae-oncology team.