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'Olive oil drug' shows promise in treating aggressive brain cancer at London hospital

Michele Treen, 42, was treated successfully with 2-OHOA at the Royal Marsden after being diagnosed with glioblastoma (The Royal Marsden)
Michele Treen, 42, was treated successfully with 2-OHOA at the Royal Marsden after being diagnosed with glioblastoma (The Royal Marsden)

A drug derived from the main ingredient in olive oil has shown promise in treating an advanced form of brain cancer at a London hospital.

The drug, named 2-OHOA, contains oleic acid – which naturally occurs in animal and vegetable fats such as olive oil.

Results from a study conducted by the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research suggest that the drug could be particularly effective for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer which affects 3,200 people across the UK each year.

The Phase 1 study involved 54 patients with recurrent glioblastoma and other advanced solid tumours. Of the 21 patients with glioblastoma treated, around a quarter (24 per cent) responded to the drug and one patient experienced an exceptional response, which lasted for more than three years.

Patients with advanced glioblastoma have very poor outcomes, often living for just a year after their diagnosis.

2-OHOA is a synthetic lipid – a group of organic compounds that includes fats and waxes.

Lipids play an important role in the structure of cell membranes, the exterior layer of a living cell which helps to regulate its growth.

The drug works by restructuring the abnormal membranes of cancer cells and blocking the crucial growth signals that drive the disease.

Michelle married her husband Aaron just a week before receiving brain surgery (Royal Marsden)
Michelle married her husband Aaron just a week before receiving brain surgery (Royal Marsden)

Dr Juanita Lopez, consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden, who led the Phase I study, said: “There hasn’t been an effective new treatment for this patient group in nearly two decades, so drug development urgently needs to be accelerated.

“Unfortunately, patients with brain cancer often don’t have the opportunity to participate in early phase trials. This underpins the vital importance of research into novel new drugs like 2-OHOA, which is designed from the same building blocks as olive oil.”

She added: “By including glioblastoma patients on this study, we were able to more quickly show early and hopeful results, supporting their inclusion in the Phase 2b/3 trial. We’re very much looking forward to results from ongoing trials and hope this treatment eventually becomes widely available.”

The drug is currently being trialled in a Phase 2b/3 study focused on newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients, which is recruiting patients at The Royal Marsden.

‘This trial has given me hope’

Michele Treen, 42, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in March 2023. Her diagnosis forced her to reorganise her wedding and she got married to her husband Aaron just a week before undergoing brain surgery.

She said: “We were so happy and so sad that day, crying all the way through. After the wedding, the first thing we did as a married couple was attend another appointment where we were told that the tumour was grade four and incurable. Our entire world came crashing down.”

After surgery, Ms Treen was referred to The Royal Marsden in Chelsea where, along with being treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, she joined the phase 2b/3 trial for 2-OHOA.

“I recovered well from surgery and, when I was told about the trial, I thought, why not? There’s nothing to lose. The drug comes in a sachet - a bit like Lemsip - and I take it with water three times a day,” she said.

“I experience some side effects, like fatigue and nausea, but we don’t know if that’s from the drug – which could be a placebo – or my ongoing chemotherapy. Either way, I feel fine and can still do things I love.”

Ms Treen was healthy enough to spend last summer travelling across Europe with her husband and 11-year-old daughter in a motorhome.

“From mountain-biking in Andorra to exploring Venice’s canals, I did things I’ll never forget with the people I love most,” she added.

“The Royal Marsden is the most incredible hospital I’ve ever been to and everyone, from the reception staff to the nurses and doctors, are all so kind. It was amazing the hospital offered me the chance to join this trial, which has given me hope.”

Ms Treen recently received her fourth stable scan in a row.

Results from the Phase 1 study have been published in the British Journal of Cancer.