Patients with certain types of ovarian cancer now have access to three clinical trials that study the results of new therapies.

These therapies are advancing ovarian cancer research in new and exciting ways, says gynecologic oncologist Dr. Charles Anderson, who was instrumental in bringing the trials to Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center.

“Ovarian cancer is one of the most genetically unstable cancers ,” Dr. Anderson says. “This is why it becomes resistant to treatments it was sensitive to initially. Because of that, you have to attack the cancer with a different approach.”

That’s what these clinical trials aim to do. Here’s a look at the trials:

Immunotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer
Women who’ve had ovarian cancer recur may benefit from a phase II study involving the drug acalabrutinib. Acalabrutinib has shown promise in treating blood-born malignancies, such as B-cell leukemias and lymphoma. Researchers are studying the drug’s effects on ovarian cancer in combination with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), an anti-PD-1 immunotherapy that is currently FDA approved as treatment for melanoma and lung cancer.

“This is a new approach to treating ovarian cancer,” Dr. Anderson says. “We’re using the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer cells. And the side effects of this type of therapy are easier on many patients, compared to traditional chemotherapy.”

Dr. Anderson is the national primary investigator for this clinical trial, which is being studied at different locations across the United States.

Targeting cancer cells with PARP inhibitors
WVCI is one of 400 sites globally enrolling women with newly diagnosed cases of stage 3 and 4 ovarian cancer for a phase III clinical trial, studying the effects of traditional chemotherapy (carboplatin/paclitaxel) in combination with the drug veliparib. Veliparib is known as a PARP inhibitor. Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases (PARPs) are enzymes that have been recently recognized as a key component of a cancer cell’s ability to survive. Drugs that inhibit PARP help fight cancers caused by mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“When patients or their tumors have those mutations, it’s believed that this drug, veliparib, makes chemotherapy more effective in killing the cancer cells,” explains Dr. Anderson.

BRCA mutations account for about 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers and around 15 percent of ovarian cancers.

Recurrent ovarian cancer in BRCA carriers
WVCI is currently enrolling patients in a global phase III clinical trial studying olaparib monotherapy in the treatment of platinum sensitive relapsed ovarian cancer.

This trial is for recurrent ovarian cancer in women who are BRCA carriers. Last year, the FDA approved olaparib (imparza) as a 4th line treatment drug—meaning a patient had to fail four lines of chemotherapy to qualify for it. This study could lead to patients having access to the drug earlier in their treatment.

Changing the treatment landscape
There haven’t been many breakthroughs in ovarian cancer research in the last 20 to 30 years when compared to other cancers, but Dr. Anderson says these clinical trials could change that.

“Patients who enroll in these studies are getting access to therapies that are potentially going to make a big difference in treating cancer in the future. And they don’t have to travel to Portland or Seattle to do it. They can receive these therapies in their own backyard. That’s significant.”