Jane Garretson went to her doctor for a routine visit in late 2016 to get a prescription renewed. But she soon received sobering news: She had stage 3 ovarian cancer.
The mother of two and grandmother of five from Cincinnati, along with her husband, decided to stay in Utah, their favorite vacation spot, while she received treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. And then hope came along in the form of a clinical trial.
That’s why she chose to participate in a worldwide study testing a new drug that targets the ovarian cancer cells, called the PARP inhibitor Veliparib.
The Huntsman Cancer Institute with 20 patients was one of more than 200 hospitals worldwide that played a role. Certain cancer cells, including the majority of ovarian cancer cells, are “exquisitely sensitive to this medication, I would say,” Werner explained.
The medication worked so well, especially for some, because between 10% and 15% of people with ovarian cancer harbor an inherited mutation called a BRCA mutation.
The mutation increases the risk of certain kinds of cancers especially breast and ovarian by causing a loss of the gene that repairs tumors, according to the doctor. Doctors at the University of Utah actually helped discover the genetic mutation, Werner said.
While the medication had the strongest positive effect on those with the mutation, Werner said it worked for those whose cancer cells only had the mutation and those who did not have the mutation at all.“It’s way more applicable than people thought,” Werner said.
On average, those in the group of women with the BRCA mutation went 34.7 months without disease progression almost three years on average compared to 22 months for the women who received a placebo.
During the trial, the participants received pills either the medication itself or a placebo while undergoing chemotherapy and after their chemotherapy for maintenance “to see if we could prolong their remission,” Werner said.
Patients at Huntsman are continuing with follow-up visits at Huntsman “and they’ve had no evidence of recurrence so far,” the doctor said. For participant Karen Edson, of Salt Lake City, “I was so happy to be a part of the study. I don’t know if I had any side effects from the drugs because I was having side effects from the chemotherapy.”
“But to be on the study, it gave me hope, and it gave me hope that I was doing everything possible to defeat cancer. And Dr. Werner and her team were incredibly compassionate and helpful during the treatment.
And I also wanted to feel that I was doing something bigger than myself to contribute in some way to fighting this disease of cancer. And I kind of looked at it as it takes a village of trials to combat cancer and I was happy to do my small part,” Edson recalled.