Cancer patients in America are now receiving a life-extending drug developed by scientists at Newcastle University.
Women with recurrent ovarian cancer have access to the pioneering treatment, Rubraca, following approval of the drug in the USA by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
First discovered approximately 20 years ago, and arising from research initiated at Newcastle University by Cancer Research U.K.-funded scientists, Rubraca has been approved for ovarian cancer patients with a faulty BRCA gene.
Studies have shown that the oral medication has a high success rate as 54 percent of women on clinical trials had complete or partial shrinkage of their tumor for an average of 9.2 months.
It is hoped that Rubraca will get approval by the European Medicines Agency within the next year. If then approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Scottish Medicines Consortium, it would allow ovarian cancer patients in the U.K. with a BRCA gene mutation to access the new treatment.
Dr. Yvette Drew, Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has led the clinical development of Rubraca in the North East.
“It is fantastic that patients are now receiving Rubraca and we are hopeful that women in Britain will also have the opportunity to access this ground-breaking treatment in the future,” Drew said. “Rubraca is a well-tolerated oral drug, allowing women to have a better quality of life for longer without debilitating side-effects that are often seen with chemotherapy. The approval of this medication is a great achievement for the Newcastle University team and is an example of what can be achieved when scientists and oncologists work together to target a specific type of cancer at the molecular level.”
Rubraca, also known as rucaparib, is a class of drug called a PARP inhibitor which exploits a defect in the cancer cell’s ability to repair normal wear and tear to its DNA to kill the tumor cells without unduly harming healthy cells.
The FDA has approved the use of Rubraca for women with ovarian cancer who have been treated with two or more chemotherapies and whose tumors have a BRCA mutation.
Each year, around 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer across the U.K. and one in 50 women will develop ovarian cancer at some point in their life.
Around 15 to 20 percent of women with ovarian cancer will have a BRCA gene mutation, putting them at increased risk of developing other cancers and a 50 percent risk of passing the faulty gene to their children.
Ruth Plummer, Clinical Professor of Experimental Medicine at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, was the first clinician to prescribe Rubraca.
Plummer, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The licensing of Rubraca by the FDA is very exciting and the culmination of many years of work by cancer researchers in Newcastle. We have been seeing patients benefit clinically from PARP inhibitors in clinical trials for a number of years and it is fantastic that this drug will now become more widely available.”
Newcastle University researchers — professors Hilary Calvert, Nicola Curtin, Barbara Durkacz, Bernard Golding, Roger Griffin, Herbie Newell and Ruth Plummer — were part of a multi-disciplinary team that discovered and developed Rubraca.
“We’re delighted that Rubraca has been licensed for use by the FDA, particularly when Cancer Research U.K.-funded scientists working at Newcastle University discovered and developed the drug in the early 1990s in collaboration with industry partners,” Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research U.K.’s director of policy, said. “The drug — one of an exciting group of drugs that exploit the weaknesses cancer cells have in repairing damaged DNA — will offer new hope to women with advanced ovarian cancer. We hope it could one day treat other cancer types and clinical trials are underway to discover its potential.”
Susan Ross has been on Rubraca under Drew’s care at the Freeman Hospital’s Northern Centre for Cancer Care in Newcastle for more than a year.
The 59-year-old, of Whitley Bay, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer with a BRCA gene mutation 10 years ago and says she feels great after being given the drug as part of a clinical trial. Ross has been on Rubraca since December 2015 when her ovarian cancer returned and was not operable. Her tumor has shrunk completely and she continues to receive the treatment as part of a clinical trial.
“I feel the best I’ve felt since before my ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2007, Ross said. “I have my life back and I’ve been to far afield countries like Australia and Japan. I’m so lucky to have been given Rubraca as part of a clinical trial and it is great patients in America are able to access this treatment — I hope patients in the U.K. will also have this opportunity in the future.
“The team at Newcastle University should be very proud of what they have achieved as Rubraca is offering hope to ovarian cancer patients with the BRCA gene mutation that they can live their life well,” she addded. “Since I have been on Rubraca I’ve felt well enough to get a part-time job and I’m also considering taking up golf. I would like to thank all those who have been involved in Rubraca’s development and to the clinical team who have looked after me so well.”
Ross underwent four operations and three rounds of chemotherapy before being enrolled on the clinical trial. She continues to be closely monitored with regular CT scans.
History of Rubraca
Newcastle University has been instrumental in the development of Rubraca.
The project that led to its discovery was among the first of Newcastle Cancer Drug Discovery Group that started at the University, involving the Northern Institute for Cancer Research and School of Chemistry.
A team of Cancer Research U.K.-funded scientists at the University contributed to the discovery of the treatment from an idea of a cancer drug target, which moved through chemistry and laboratory science and finally clinical trials of Rubraca began.
Scientists at the School of Chemistry and Northern Institute for Cancer Research started their research on inhibitors of DNA repair enzymes, including an enzyme called poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP-1).
It was later established that inhibiting PARP-1 was particularly effective in treating tumors with a mutated BRCA gene.
Finding an inhibitor of this enzyme relied on finding a molecule that would displace PARP-1’s natural chemical substrate. A key step in this process was established at the School of Chemistry, where a way to mimic the natural substrate leading to compounds that inhibited the enzyme was found.
Experts at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research helped to develop the drug and the first clinical trial of Rubraca was conducted in Newcastle in 2003, and further clinical trials followed.