Cancer patient hails 'highly promising' new treatment after tumours shrink

A new treatment for ovarian cancer has been hailed "highly promising" by researchers after it was found to significantly shrink tumours.

Seven out of 15 women with advanced ovarian cancer, who had exhausted all other treatment options, saw their tumours reduce in size.

The group were given a drug known as ONX-0801, as part of a phase one clinic trial run by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London.

The aim was to test its safety, but the results were so good that researchers are keen to move to the next stage of research as soon as possible.

Marianne Heath, 68, was one of the women who took part in the trial. She was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2011, and has several tumours, including in her back and stomach.

She previously had an operation to remove her ovaries and womb and chemotherapy, but the disease had begun to spread.

During the trial, all of Mrs Heath's tumours shrank and she is now considered to have stable disease.

Mrs Heath told ITV News: "It was an easy choice for me. I had no particular side effects, I felt a tiny bit sick, a little bit tired...I sailed through it."

"It definitely has helped me because it has shrunk the tumours, which was the whole idea," she added.

Mrs Heath also said she would "absolutely" recommend the treatment to other women.

However, she has started suffering back pain and plans to have radiotherapy on the tumour in her back which was recommended prior to the trial.

How does the treatment work?

  • Ovarian cancer cells have an abnormally large number of receptors for folic acid, called alpha folate receptors.

  • ONX-0801 is the first in a new class of drugs discovered at the ICR. It attacks ovarian cancer by mimicking folic acid to enter the cancer cells.

  • It then kills these cells by blocking a molecule called thymidylate synthase, thereby causing irreparable DNA damage.

Dr Udai Banerji, deputy director of the drug development unit at the ICR and the Royal Marsden, who led the study, said much more research was needed but the results were exciting.

Dr Udai Banerji said the initial results of the trial are very promising.

"What we've seen so far in the phase one trial is extremely exciting," Dr Banerji told ITV News.

"We're very excited that we're able to help patients," he added.

More than 4,000 women died from the disease.

Symptoms can include pain in the abdomen or side, a bloated or full feeling and sometimes back pain, constipation or irregular bleeding.

Overall, only about half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer live for five years or more.

Find out more about ovarian cancer on NHS choices

Around half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer live for five years or more. Credit: PA

Annwen Jones, chief executive of the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: "This study shows promising results, although it is a small sample and at a very early stage of research.

"With very few effective treatment options for ovarian cancer, an approach that develops new ways of targeting ovarian cancer cells more effectively, and with fewer side effects, is to be welcomed."