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New partnership with Artios Pharma on ovarian cancer treatment resistance

Researchers hope the PARP Inhibitor Resistance Study (PAIRS) will help doctors treat and support ovarian cancer patients more effectively


Thanks to a new partnership with Artios Pharma Limited (Artios), Wellbeing of Women has awarded a grant to researchers in Scotland to investigate why some advanced ovarian cancers become resistant to a type of treatment called PARP inhibitors.

Researchers hope the PArp Inhibitor Resistance Study (PAIRS) will help doctors treat and support patients more effectively and ultimately foster the development of treatments able to sidestep this resistance.

Around 7,500 people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK. In 2019, more than 1,350 women were told their tumour had spread to other parts of the body.

Studies show that PARP inhibitors, when used after chemotherapy, can help give women with advanced ovarian cancer more time with their loved ones. In one study, the PARP inhibitor Olaparib was shown to delay disease relapse in advanced ovarian cancer patients by three years.

They work by blocking a type of protein in our cells called poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP), which is essential for repairing cells. Without access to this protein, cancer cells cannot repair themselves and die.

However, for the majority of patients, these drugs will eventually stop working as their tumours become resistant to treatment.

In a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, researchers will study samples from patients with PARP inhibitor resistant tumours, collected as part of the PAIRS study, to understand how, why and when this resistance occurs.

Dr Patricia Roxburgh (pictured above), Wellbeing of Women researcher and Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist at the University of Glasgow, will be leading the study. She said: “PARP inhibitors have been shown to slow the progression of advanced ovarian cancer, but they’re not suitable for everyone. Some people may experience more severe side effects than others and for many, the treatment will stop working over time. We want to understand the reasons behind this and will be studying biomarkers in the blood to identify resistance at its earliest stage. This work will support the optimal prescribing of PARP inhibitors by clinicians and the development of strategies to prevent treatment resistance as well as new treatments for PARP inhibitor resistant disease.”

Amy Van Wyk was 36 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018. She continues to live with the condition, which is thankfully stable, and is passionate about the need for research. She describes this new study as ‘encouraging’ and said: “We are losing mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters to this terrible disease. It’ll give me more hope for the future that the cancer can be controlled and maintained for longer.” Read her story.

Professor David Williams, Chair of the Research Advisory Committee at Wellbeing of Women, and based at The Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, said: “It is tragic that in the UK, eleven women die every day from ovarian cancer. It is a devastating disease with limited treatment options, so it is crucial we find ways to help women live well for as long as possible. This study has exciting implications for clinical practice, paving the way for better management of advanced ovarian cancer through more personalised targeted care, and ultimately, the development of more treatments.

“Lessons learnt about PARP inhibitors to treat ovarian cancer, may also apply to the treatment of other cancers such as breast, prostate and pancreatic. This research could therefore have implications for many thousands of people.”

Gillian Langford PhD, Vice President of Clinical Development at Artios Pharma, said: “We are very pleased to partner with Wellbeing of Women and help support the research that it funds. This study will not only further our understanding of ovarian cancer resistance but will ultimately help shape the future development of well-tolerated and durable cancer therapies that give women the best possible outcome.”

PAIRS is one of several ovarian cancer projects funded by Wellbeing of Women. Find out more.