A new study by Mater Research and The University of Queensland will look at a potential tablet treatment for ovarian cancer which could be more effective and have fewer side effects than current chemotherapy.
The study has been awarded a $500,486 grant from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, coinciding with this year’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Mater Research’s Professor Brian Gabrielli, who will lead the study, said ovarian cancer was difficult to diagnose – meaning most patients’ conditions are well advanced before treatment begins.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynaecological cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 49%.
“One thing that is apparent in ovarian cancer is that if initial treatment fails, which it does for a fair percentage of patients, there are few other treatment options,” Prof Gabrielli said.
“Current chemotherapy has unpleasant side effects such as nausea, fatigue and weight loss. It also compromises the immune system, so new treatments for ovarian cancer would be very beneficial.”
The ovarian cancer study will build on Prof Gabrielli’s decade of work on melanomas, which has established that combining lower doses of chemotherapy with a targeted therapy – taken in tablet form – can attack deadly skin cancers without the patient suffering the full usual effects of chemotherapy.
Prof Gabrielli’s research focus is on the chemotherapy drug hydroxyurea, combined with targeted inhibitors of checkpoint kinase 1, which plays an important role in regulating the body’s response to DNA damage.
“The target of these inhibitors in melanoma is also a very common feature of high-grade serious ovarian cancer, with our preliminary evidence suggesting that like in melanoma, the treatment is effective,” Prof Gabrielli said.
“If we are able to apply this combination therapy to ovarian cancer then the toxicity of current chemotherapy is avoided – resulting in the patient not feeling anywhere near as bad during treatment, and importantly their immune system remains functional and intact.
“The promising part of this treatment is that it appears to drive an immune response against the cancer, so rather than debilitating a patient’s immune system, it enhances its ability to detect and respond to tumours.”
Prof Gabrielli will work with experienced immunologist Dr Jazmina Gonzalez Cruz and Associate Professor Jim Coward, whose background in medical oncology will be invaluable as the study progresses to a clinical trial.
“What got me interested in ovarian cancer research is Mater’s fantastic gynaecological oncology clinical group, but also the fact that many of my friends and family have been impacted by the disease,” Prof Gabrielli said.
“Our preliminary data is promising and makes me feel like we are working towards a future where, at the very least, patients are in significantly less pain during treatment.”