Clinical Trials for Hereditary Cancer: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
This blog is a call to action! Please read on, and then post, blog, tweet, retweet, and share about this issue so that we can assure that hereditary cancer research continues!
The call for more research is a constant theme for all diseases including cancer, and sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated by the slow pace of progress. The multistep process from discovery to FDA approval is often long and doesn’t always end in success. But research is necessary to assure that new treatments work as well or better than current standard-of-care. For this to happen, studies must recruit enough people to prove that the agents work. This is particularly critical for research that focuses on a small specific population like people with a BRCA mutation.
PARP inhibitor research is a prime example. I first heard about PARP inhibitors at the 2005 ASCO annual meeting. In her plenary address on advances in hereditary cancer, Dr. Barbara Weber from the University of Pennsylvania mentioned targeted agents (PARP inhibitors) that were designed to exploit weaknesses of cancer cells in people with BRCA mutations. This was exciting news! I was hopeful that this could be the beginning of personalized therapy for people in our community. From that moment on, I vowed to do whatever it took to learn about, share with our community, and promote the studies to determine whether these drugs worked.
Early small clinical trials of PARP inhibitors were promising, but delays and road-blocks affected development of larger research studies. Some of the roadblocks had to do with study design; others involved dosing or side effects as researchers determined the most effective combinations of PARP inhibitors with other anticancer agents. Despite these issues, enthusiasm continues for the potential of these drugs in people with BRCA mutations. Yet, eight years later, there are still no FDA-approved PARP inhibitors and people are still dying of hereditary cancers!
FORCE has continued to advocate for further research on PARP inhibitors, petitioning scientists, the FDA, and pharmaceutical companies to address the road-blocks and challenges and to facilitate the research and find answers for hereditary cancer. After eight long years, our pleas and efforts have been rewarded. Several PARP inhibitor studies are now recruiting, including a large, Phase II study on PARP inhibitors for women with BRCA-associated advanced breast cancer. Our participation in this research is critical. Unless enough people participate, these studies will not continue. If enrollment falls short, the next time scientists have an idea for treating or preventing hereditary cancer, they may decide that the BRCA community is too difficult to research, and fewer studies will be designed for us. That would be tragic considering how many members of our community develop and succumb to cancer.
This is where the rubber meets the road!
We have worked long and tirelessly to advocate for this research. Now that we have it, we cannot afford to turn a deaf ear. At this moment, the fate of hereditary cancer treatment research rests with each of us. Although most of the current studies are open only to women with advanced cancer, even if that doesn’t describe you, perhaps you know someone who fits that description. If PARP inhibitors work for advanced hereditary cancer, the next step will be tests to see if they also work for earlier cancers.
Here is what you can do to help:
Get involved. Consider enrolling in a study if you are eligible, and share information about PARP inhibitor research with everyone that you know. Post it prominently on your social media pages, share it with your online or in-person support group, discuss it with your local media, and write or blog about why hereditary cancer research is important. Please remember to share your efforts with us. Email us, post on FB or the FORCE message boards about ways you have spread the word about this important research.