Researching the cures


Importance of PCRF’s ‘BRCAness’ research underlined by drug success

The recent news that the drug olaparib delayed the progress of advanced pancreatic cancer in patients who have faults in the BRCA1 and 2 genes underlines the relevance and importance of a PCRF-funded research project being carried out by Dr Mairéad McNamara from the University of Manchester and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr McNamara’s project, which we funded in the 2017 award round, is assessing the feasibility of evaluating ‘BRCAness’ – changes in cells from patients with pancreatic cancer which resemble the BRCA mutations that were successfully targeted by olaparib.

Returning from the ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago where the study results from the POLO clinical trial were announced, she told us:

“The POLO trial results are definitely a step forward for patients with advanced pancreas cancer, and it’s the first trial to report clinically meaningful results with the use of a ‘precision’ drug to target BRCA mutations.

“The population of patients with inherited BRCA mutations is probably less than 5%, but the success of the reported POLO trial offers the potential for investigating this class of drugs in patients with other BRCA-like mutations, and this will be the direction of trials in this area in the next few years.

“‘BRCAness’ has been detected in a number of pancreatic tumour samples taken from patients with early stage disease during surgery, when genetically analysed. At the moment, we don’t definitively know the percentage of BRCAness in patients with later stage disease and this is what our project is trying to determine. We’re analysing blood samples and stored tumour samples taken when patients were diagnosed to see if this can be measured accurately.

“The ability to guide on what the actual percentage of BRCAness is in patients will inform future clinical trial design, and open up more treatment possibilities for more patients who might benefit from existing or new drugs that target these types of genetic faults.

“The POLO results also told us that these patients also have better survival overall, and this gives patients extra time where other novel therapies may be developed in the intervening period.

“It’s an exciting time for ‘precision’ drug development and we believe that our PCRF-funded project is directly contributing to the growing body of knowledge in this important area.”