By: Deborah Zajchowski, PhD – Scientific Director, The Clearity Foundation
In the past three years, new hope has come to many women with ovarian cancer because of four new drugs that were approved for the treatment of this disease. These drugs are therapies designed to target specific cellular processes that cancer cells use to create their own blood vessels (called angiogenesis; Avastin) or repair damage to the genetic material or DNA (PARP or the poly-ADP ribose polymerase enzyme; Lynparza, Rubraca, Zejula). They are the first targeted therapies for treating ovarian cancer.
Importantly, some women have benefited from these same drugs for longer than three years because they participated in the clinical trials that proved their safety and effectiveness. While it is not possible to foresee the future and there are risks associated with taking new drugs that have not yet been used by hundreds of people, it can be wise to enroll in a clinical trial -even with a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer. There are science-based reasons to expect that adding a PARP inhibitor (to enhance the effectiveness of cytotoxic chemotherapy) or an immunotherapy (to boost your immune system’s ability to eliminate cancer cells) to the standard first-line chemotherapy treatment of carboplatin and paclitaxel which may increase the chances for a cure. And for women with cancer that has come back or progressed, drugs in clinical trials can have equal or better effectiveness than cytotoxic chemotherapies – oftentimes with less side effects. We think these trials should be considered by each woman and their oncologist.
Despite the potential advantages of clinical trials, the number of cancer patients who enroll in these studies is reported to be very low – around 5-10%. This may be related to many factors, including not knowing that an appropriate trial exists or that the trial site is too far away from home. In addition, there are unfortunate misperceptions that drugs in trials are a last resort or even worse – that one might be given a placebo (e.g., sugar pill) and not receive treatment at all – both of which are false. Sometimes women are not eligible for a desired trial because they have had too many prior treatments or have decided to look for a trial at a time when they need to start a new treatment very soon and there is no time to find, learn about, and complete the steps involved in the application process. This latter scenario happens much too often and as a result, women miss out on opportunities to obtain some of the most promising options to treat this disease.
The Clearity Foundation is here to help make this process easier, and over 25% of the women who have come to us for assistance over the years have enrolled in clinical trials – including women who benefited by receiving those PARP inhibitors before they were approved! In past newsletters, we have explained the basics tenets of clinical trials – what clinical trials are, what the different phases mean, and how to know if you should enroll in a trial.
Find Clinical Trials That Match Your Precise Clinical Situation and Preferences
From our conversations with women who have ovarian cancer and their supportive spouses, families, and friends, we have learned that it is not easy to search for trials or decide which ones are appropriate, so today, we announce the launching of a beta version of a new Guided Trial Finder. With it, we take you through a step-by-step question-and-answer process that will help narrow down your options for clinical trials-and provide only those that match your precise clinical situation (e.g. newly diagnosed, recurred) and any other parameters (e.g., location, trial phase) that you think are important. Indeed, our new trial finder will help you find trials that are difficult to identify using other search methods.
You can find trials that could enroll you even if you do not have “measurable disease” [which can sometimes be the case when you have an elevated CA125 marker and fluid build-up in your abdomen (ascites) or lungs (pleural effusion) but no appropriately sized mass or nodule that is seen on an imaging scan] – or if you have had multiple prior therapies and don’t want a phase 1 trial – or if you have previously had a different cancer than ovarian that is in remission (many trials exclude you from participating but others will permit you to enroll).
The new trial finder will make it easier to locate such trials. We recognize that finding the trials is only the first step and provide a means for you to download and save a list of those trials to bring to your doctor for discussion. We can also help you do this search or understand how some of the drugs in the trials may benefit you. You can learn more about some of the drugs by visiting our Clinical Trial Results pages or by calling us at 858-675-0282.
Please let us know what you think and of any suggestions for our next version of this Finder.