FDA approves new drug to treat pancreatic cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an ovarian cancer drug for the maintenance and treatment of pancreatic cancer, according to AstraZeneca and Merck.

The drug, Lynparza (olaparib), has been approved in the United States for pancreatic cancer patients whose disease has not progressed on at least 16 weeks of a 1st-line platinum-based chemotherapy regimen.

Earlier this month, a panel of experts at the FDA recommended Lynparza after a study found that pancreatic cancer patients who were treated with the drug could go nearly twice as long without their cancer worsening than those taking a placebo.

“Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer historically have faced poor outcomes due to the aggressive nature of the disease and limited treatment advances over the last few decades,” said Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president of the Oncology Business Unit. “Lynparza is now the only approved targeted medicine in biomarker-selected patients with advanced pancreatic cancer,” he added.

Biomarker-selected patients are those with BRCA gene mutations, which hinder the body’s ability to fix damaged DNA and ultimately make it more likely that cells develop genetic mutations that can lead to cancer.

Lynparza is a PARP inhibitor, a type of drug that is used to stop cancer cells from reproducing.

"Metastatic pancreatic cancer patients have been waiting a long time for new therapy options for their devastating disease," said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. "Today’s approval of Lynparza provides an exciting new treatment option for patients with germline BRCA-mutated metastatic pancreatic cancer.”

Lynparza is already approved for advanced ovarian cancer and metastatic breast cancer and has been used to treat 25,000 patients worldwide, and now AstraZeneca and Merck (the drug’s makers) are looking into the possibility of using it to treat other types of cancer as well.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.