A new maintenance drug for patients with advanced ovarian cancer has been approved for use in Scotland. Olaparib tablets will be an option for patients with newly diagnosed BRCAmutated advanced ovarian cancer who have responded to chemotherapy.

As a maintenance drug, trials found that for patients given the tablets it can be three years before the disease progresses.

Just over 600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Scotland every year and two-thirds are diagnosed when the disease is more advanced, when the chances of survival are lower.

Professor Charlie Gourley, UK lead of the SOLO-1 clinical trial and clinical director of the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, said: “Olaparib is a practice-changing treatment that exploits the Achilles’ heel of BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.

“The unprecedented results of the SOLO-1 clinical trial show that giving olaparib after surgery and chemotherapy to patients who are newly diagnosed with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer results in approximately three additional years before their disease progresses, giving them longer before further rounds of chemotherapy are needed.

“Although the data are immature, we are hopeful that this treatment may also increase overall survival in the future.

“It is now imperative that all women with ovarian cancer are tested for the BRCA mutation to give them the benefit of this therapy wherever possible.”

More than 350 women die of the disease in Scotland each year. Approximately 22 per cent of ovarian cancer patients carry a BRCA mutation, which can be identified via genetic testing upon referral by a healthcare professional.

Marie-Claire Platt, head of public affairs and research at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “Today’s news marks a significant advancement in how we can treat BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer in Scotland.”

Rachel Downing, head of policy and campaigns at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We are thrilled that it has been approved. For those women that can access it its results have been tremendous.”

Biopharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and MSD announced yesterday that Olaparib monotherapy has been accepted for use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Mohit Manrao, business unit director, oncology, at AstraZeneca UK, said: “For the first time, women with newly diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer have access to a medicine specifically designed for their type of cancer.

“We have made olaparib available to these patients in the UK via an early access programme since December 2018 and, now that it will be available within NHS Scotland.”

Mother-of-two Jennifer Jennings, 59, from Edinburgh was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015 after experiencing stomach pains and urinary symptoms.

Her mother died from ovarian cancer, which raised concern with her GP. She was sent for diagnostic tests and then referred to gynae-oncology in hospital.

Ms Jennings was diagnosed with stage III (advanced) ovarian cancer and had surgery and chemotherapy.

She went through genetic testing and found out that she has a BRCA2 mutation, increasing the risk of developing ovarian cancer from 2%, among women generally, to 10-25%.

The mutation also increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Three years later, Ms Jennings cancer came back, a recurrence which is common with ovarian cancer.

After another round of chemotherapy, she found out she was eligible to access the maintenance drug olaparib, which she has now been taking for a year.

Ms Jennings said: “It was so hard to hear that my cancer is treatable, but not curable. Taking olaparib has given me an extension to life that I might not have had otherwise. Despite experiencing some side-effects, I tolerate it very well. It’s given me quality time to spend with my family, I’m looking forward to the birth of my first grandchild in the new year. I’m also back at work. Without olaparib my life would be completely different.”