Olaparib: new drug offered on NHS to treat inherited cancer - what is it and how does it work

People in England and Wales who suffer from inherited cancers can now benefit from a new drug on the NHS - Olaparib.

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Olaparib will help treat those with inherited cancers such as breast and prostate, linked to faulty versions of genes known as BRCAs. Cancer experts have hailed the decision for the NHS to offer the drug as "momentous", with healthcare body NICE saying it would "improve quality of life".

According to the NHS, around 800 people will be eligible for the drug immediately. This includes around 500 men with advanced prostate cancer and 300 women with HER2-negative early breast cancer.

NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, said a deal had been struck between NHS England and manufacturer AstraZeneca to allow the drug to be offered to: adults with HER2-negative, high-risk early breast cancer who have inherited faults in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, after surgery and chemotherapy and people with previously treated hormone-relapsed metastatic prostate cancer who have the same BRCA mutations.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at charity Breast Cancer Now, said: "Olaparib can reduce the risk of people’s cancer returning or progressing to incurable secondary breast cancer and stop people dying from this devastating disease." The Prostate Cancer UK charity said the first targeted treatments "finally move us away from the old ‘one size fits all’ approach to prostate cancer treatment".

How does Olaparib work?

Olaparib works by blocking an enzyme that helps cells repair damaged DNA, thereby preventing cancer cells from growing and spreading while leaving healthy cells intact.