Researchers testing a drug, known as ONX-0801, found that tumours in half of the 15 women studied shrank during the trial.
Despite initially only testing the drug to see if it was safe for humans to take, the researchers discovered that it had a positive clinical effect when tested on the small sample. According to The Guardian, ONX-0801, is part of a new class of drugs discovered at the Institute of Cancer Research in London which mimics folic acid to attack ovarian cancer cells.
Ovarian cancer is a difficult disease to treat, and between 2008 and 2010 in England, 36 per cent of the more than 14,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer died in the first year, while more than 1,600 died in the first month.
Doctors hope the drug will be offered to women who have stopped responding to all other currently available treatments.
"The results we have seen in this trial are very promising," said Dr. Udai Banerji, the leader of the study and deputy director of the drug development unit at the Institute of Cancer Research. "It is rare to see such clear evidence of reproducible responses in these early stages of drug development."
He added the drug could add “upward of six months to lives of patients with minimal side effects", though conceded that more long-term trials need to be done.
However, Professor Michel Coleman, professor of epidemiology and vital statistics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, urged caution.
"Shrinkage of tumours is important, but as the authors point out, that is not the same as producing the hoped-for extension of survival for women with ovarian cancer," he said.
"The excitement of the investigators is completely understandable, but one should be cautious about interpreting this result as a breakthrough for ovarian cancer patients until data on longer-term outcomes are available."
Researchers shared the results of their tests at a conference held by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists.
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