Improved progression-free survival for BRCA-driven metastatic pancreatic cancer with olaparib

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The randomised phase 3 POLO trial found that maintenance therapy with the PARP inhibitor olaparib significantly delayed the progression of metastatic pancreatic cancer in patients with BRCA gene mutations compared with placebo (median progression-free survival: 7.4 months vs 3.8 months, respectively) [1].

“POLO is the first phase 3 randomised study to establish a biomarker-driven approach in the treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer, and it opens the door to a new era of personalised care for this difficult-to-treat cancer,” said presenter Prof. Hedy Kindler (University of Chicago Medicine, USA). “Roughly one in five patients responded to olaparib for a median of 2 years, which is truly remarkable for metastatic pancreatic cancer. For patients with BRCA-driven metastatic pancreatic cancer, we may be seeing a change in patients’ disease trajectory.”

The current trial builds on phase 2 data from a 2015 trial [2]; finding 22% response rates (tumour shrinkage) in pancreatic cancers with BRCA1/2 gene mutations treated with olaparib, following chemotherapy with gemcitabine. The POLO trial examined if olaparib could delay disease progression after 16 weeks or more of initial platinum-based chemotherapy. Toxicities to platinum-based chemotherapy often increase the longer they are taken, so some people stop the medicines after 16 weeks. The use of an oral, non-chemotherapeutic medicine with lower toxicities, such as olaparib, would provide an important option, according to the authors. After screening 3,315 people with pancreatic cancer, the investigators identified 247 with germline BRCA mutations. The researchers randomly assigned 154 patients on a 3:2 basis, with 92 people assigned to olaparib and 62 assigned to placebo. Treatment started 4 to 8 weeks after a patient’s last dose of platinum-based chemotherapy. The median duration of treatment was 6 months for those taking olaparib and 3.7 months for people who received a placebo. Enrolees were a median age of 57; 58% of the people who received olaparib were men and equal numbers of men and women received placebo. Two-thirds of those enrolled had BRCA2 mutations, and the remainder had BRCA1 mutations.

Patients were initially evaluated for disease progression every 8 weeks, then subsequently for 40 weeks, and every 12 weeks thereafter. At 6, 12, 18, and 24 months after the investigators randomly assigned people to a treatment, those who received olaparib were at least twice as likely to have no disease progression compared with those who received placebo. Olaparib reduced the risk of disease progression by 47% (hazard ratio 0.53) compared with those getting a placebo. The median progression-free survival for patients receiving olaparib was 7.4 months, compared with 3.8 months for patients who received a placebo. After 1 year, 33.7% of patients receiving olaparib showed no signs of disease progression compared with 14.5% of those who received a placebo. After 2 years, 22.1% of people receiving olaparib had no cancer progression compared with 9.6% of those receiving a placebo.

In January 2019, ASCO issued a Provisional Clinical Opinion recommending that people with pancreatic cancer undergo risk assessment for hereditary syndromes that increase pancreatic cancer risk; germline genetic testing for cancer susceptibility – including testing for BRCA mutations – may be discussed with individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, even if family history does not clearly suggest an inheritable cancer related syndrome.

  1. Kindler et al. Abstract LBA4. Olaparib as maintenance treatment following first-line platinum-based chemotherapy (PBC) in patients (pts) with a germline BRCA mutation and metastatic pancreatic cancer (mPC): Phase III POLO trial. ASCO 2019, 31 May-4 June, Chicago, USA.
  2. Kaufman B et al. Olaparib monotherapy in patients with advanced cancer and a germline BRCA1/2 mutation. J Clin Oncol. 2015 Jan 20;33(3):244-50.