New ‘Parp Inhibitors’ Could Prevent the Development of Pancreatic Cancer
Breakthrough research could see some genetic cancers prevented before developing and is already being used for some people at risk.
It is estimated that in the UK, tens of thousands of people carry disease-causing versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which put these people at risk of developing a variety of cancers, including pancreatic cancer.
After decades of research, the majority of it here in the UK, scientists have developed a range of drugs known as Parp inhibits. Parp is short for poly adenosine diphosphate-ribose polymerase, an enzyme found in all our cells that plays a crucial role in helping cells repair damaged DNA.
Across the UK, the increasing use of Parp inhibitors has raised hopes for many people who are susceptible to hereditary pancreatic cancer with the hope that they can be treated and effectively soon. One day, it may even be possible to use Parp inhibitors to prevent pancreatic cancer from developing, not just as a treatment following a diagnosis.
Professor Herbie Newell of Newcastle University said:
"Effectively, Parp Inhibitors would be used as a preventative medicine to stop certain tumours from ever appearing."
A Parp inhibitor works as an anti-tumour treatment by stopping a cancer cell’s own Parp enzyme from doing its repair work and so causes it to die. The clinical evaluation of the first Parp inhibitors began 20 years ago, funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
“Essentially, we have found the Achilles heel of tumour cells and have learned how to use that information to destroy them,” said cancer expert Professor Steve Jackson of Cambridge University. His team of researchers, backed by CRUK funding, played a vital role in the discovery and development of the Parp Inhibitor Olaparib.
“When we first developed Parp inhibitors, we gave them to patients who were in the late stages of their cancers,” said Jackson. “They had nothing to lose. We were not sure what to expect but found there were quite a number of patients who responded quite profoundly.”
Today, Parp inhibitors are being given earlier and earlier to some cancer patients, particularly those with ovarian and breast cancers.
Jackson added: “We are also seeing that a substantial fraction of these patients are surviving long term.”
"However, there are side effects involved in taking these drugs, and it is now a matter of ongoing research to work out how we might balance the risks of those side effects with the potential benefit of preventing tumour development in the first place. This is exactly the question that is currently being addressed."
Nonetheless, this progression to earlier administration of the drug in some cancers is now encouraging scientists to consider the use of Parp inhibitors such as Olaparib in a preventive role. Individuals from families affected by mutated BRCA genes could potentially be given these drugs before they develop pancreatic cancer, potentially saving lives. You can read more on the study here.