Whitley Bay woman thankful for successful cancer trial

Susan Ross, from Whitley Bay, and her partner Paul Appleby.
Susan Ross, from Whitley Bay, and her partner Paul Appleby.

Cancer patients have been given new hope, thanks to a life-extending drug developed at Newcastle University.

Women in America with recurrent ovarian cancer now have access to Rubraca following approval of the drug in the USA by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – with hopes it could be approved in Europe within the next year.

Rubraca has been approved for ovarian cancer patients with a faulty BRCA gene, with studies showing 54 per cent of women on clinical trials had complete or partial shrinkage of their tumour for an average of 9.2 months.

Among those involved in the trials was Susan Ross.

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 on Rubraca since December 2015, when her ovarian cancer returned and was not operable.

Susan said: “I feel the best I’ve felt since before my ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2007. I have my life back.

“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 UK will also have this opportunity in the future.

“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.”

It is hoped Rubraca will get approval by the European Medicines Agency soon.

Dr Yvette Drew, senior lecturer at Newcastle University and honorary consultant in medical oncology at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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.

“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 tumour 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 tumours have a BRCA mutation.

Each year, around 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer across the UK and one in 50 women will develop ovarian cancer at some point in their life.

Ruth Plummer, clinical professor of experimental medicine at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, 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.”

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “We’re delighted that Rubraca® has been licensed for use by the FDA, particularly when Cancer Research UK-funded scientists working at Newcastle University discovered and developed the drug in the early 1990s in collaboration with industry partners.

“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.”