Prostate cancer breakthrough drug doubles survival time 

A cutting-edge prostate cancer drug which was rejected by the NHS spending watchdog could extend the lives of many more men than first thought.

The drug, olaparib, had been shown to be highly effective in treating a specific genetic type of the disease, but it’s now thought the tablets could work for a much wider group of patients.

This means it could be used to help thousands of cancer victims each year in the UK, rather than just a few hundred.

Although olaparib has been given the green light for prostate cancer patients by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which has to approve NHS drugs in England and Wales, last month deemed the drug too expensive.

It said existing evidence wasn’t strong enough to justify the annual £37,000 per patient cost.

But experts hope new data, which will be presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Genitourinary Cancers Symposium, will help to change its decision.

‘Early studies suggested the drug was beneficial, so it was disappointing when NICE chose not to recommend it,’ says Dr Hendrik-Tobias Arkenau, medical director of research organisation Sarah Cannon Research Institute UK.

Archibald Muir, 68, was one of the first Britons to receive olaparib on the NHS in Scotland. The butcher from Glasgow found out six months ago that his prostate cancer, which developed three years ago, had returned and spread to the bones in his back.

He says: ‘I was in so much pain at the time that I was in hospital constantly. I couldn’t get out of bed.’

Mr Muir’s cancer carried a BRCA genetic mutation – the same faulty gene that can raise the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women and also causes some pancreatic cancers.

Olaparib has shown to be highly effective in treating all kinds of BRCA tumours.

Doctors started Mr Muir on the medication after his relapse, and within a month he was out of hospital.

‘It’s a really remarkable change,’ he says. ‘I don’t have pain any more and I’m back at work part-time. Most importantly, the doctors say blood tests show less and less cancer, meaning the disease is slowing.’

Olaparib, first discovered in the UK, is a revolutionary drug known as a poly adenosine diphosphate-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor. It interferes with an enzyme that helps cancer cells repair themselves, causing them to die.