Niraparib (Zejula®) works by stopping cancer cells from repairing themselves, effectively crippling them.
New targeted treatments, so-called because they exploit specific weaknesses in cancer cells, are almost unheard of in ovarian cancer – just two have been approved for use on the NHS before now. Niraparib is the first time a breakthrough drug has been made available to women with recurrent ovarian cancer on a mass scale – regardless of whether they carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Until now, women with ovarian cancer have had to watch from the sidelines as scientific breakthroughs have been made elsewhere, waiting for their chance of life-changing treatment.
Target Ovarian Cancer played a key role in the NICE review process for niraparib, responding to both consultations, giving oral evidence as an expert witness and raising the issue with MPs. We have already submitted our response to the consultation in Scotland (informed by a survey of women with ovarian cancer living in Scotland) and are due to take part in their review process later this month.
Rebecca Rennison, Director of Public Affairs and Services at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Today’s announcement is a gamechanger in ovarian cancer. While we have seen some new treatments in recent years, these have been for highly restricted groups. With niraparib, we’re taking the fight to ovarian cancer. We know that with the right investment in new treatments, more women can and will survive this disease. Today is a critical first step in making that a reality.”
Jane Howarth, 54 from Manchester, has been taking niraparib for nine months. She said: “When I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, my first words were, ‘But I’ve got children!’ They were 11 and 14 at the time. I am now told that the cancer is advanced and incurable, but last September I started taking niraparib - and now I am at home, stable and well. I am there for my older daughter as she goes through her A-levels. I am there for my younger daughter as she navigates adolescence. We can make plans, and that is invaluable. I believe all women living with this disease should have that, too.”
The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) exists to make promising treatments available sooner, while giving cancer drugs companies more time to gather mature data on how the drug works. The CDF gives women in England only access to niraparib. A decision is expected in Scotland and Wales later this year. If niraparib receives full NICE approval after spending time on the CDF, it will then be available to women in Northern Ireland.