Public Release: 

Ovarian cancer treatment receives approval

University of Alberta

A drug treatment developed at the University of Alberta to improve the quality of life for women with ovarian cancer has been approved for use in Canada.

"This approval means these women now have a chance of therapy that appears to be useful," said Dr. Terry Allen, a U of A pharmacology professor who developed the treatment. "Every year, 2,500 women in Canada are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and of that number 1,500 will die. Those are the women we are targeting, the ones who would die or are at the advanced stages of the disease."

Schering Canada announced today that Health Canada has approved Caelyx, the brand name for liposomal doxorubicin, for women who have failed standard first-line ovarian cancer therapy.

Allen's research, based on "Stealth" technology, uses a novel, targeted delivery system to help evade recognition by the body's immune system. The Stealth liposomes disguise themselves as water, allowing the drug to stay circulating in the body for a longer period of time, increasing their chances of reaching the targeted tumour sites. As a result, the debilitating side effects associated with other chemotherapies are reduced, while the effectiveness of the drug is increased.

"Despite improvements in both response rates and survival with current combination chemotherapies, up to 30 per cent of patients fail to respond to first-line therapy with platinum and paclitaxel," said Allen. "In second-line therapy, the cure rate is low but our hope is to increase the quality of life and extend their survival time."

Clinical trials of 474 patients in the U.S., Europe and Canada were administered and Caelyx demonstrated survival, toxicity and quality of life benefits for patients with advanced ovarian carcinoma. The treatment is administered intravenously once every four weeks.

Health Canada first approved CAELYX in 1998 for the treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. Allen expects the therapy will be applied to more diseases in the future.

"We're hoping this is the second of many cancers that Caelyx will be approved for and it is certainly being tested in a wide variety of other solid tumours," she said. "We expect that other approvals will be forthcoming."

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In Canada, Caelyx is marketed by Schering Canada Inc., based in Pointe-Claire, Que. The Stealth liposomal doxorubicin has been in use in the U.S. since 1995, under the brand name Doxil.

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