Progress in ovarian cancer research starts with patients

Reflecting on the history of clinical research and our inspiration to continue innovating for ovarian cancer patients

August 29, 2023

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This article was written by Dr. Scot Ebbinghaus, VP, clinical research.

A history of groundbreaking research

More than sixty years ago, in 1958, British chemist and X-ray crystallographer Dr. Rosalind Franklin died following a two-year fight with ovarian cancer. She was only 37 years old. Her pioneering research provided the key to deciphering the structure and function of DNA — and ultimately the blueprint for life.

In 1962 her collaborators, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their “discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” Dr. Franklin’s untimely death denied her the acclaim of this prestigious scientific award (the Nobel Committee does not award the prize posthumously), but her role in this fundamental discovery has been well-documented and is now widely recognized.

Even today, advanced ovarian cancer remains one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

Dr. Franklin’s story of a life cut short by ovarian cancer remains all too common. But there remains a reason for optimism. The pace of change in cancer treatment has increased dramatically in recent years. Advances in research have given us a deeper understanding of how to target the disease, paving the way for new developments.

  • Ovarian cancer is the 8th most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the world.
  • In 2020, globally, it’s estimated that nearly 314,000 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which resulted in approximately 207,200 deaths.

Ovarian cancer more often causes signs and symptoms when the disease has spread, but can also cause nonspecific signs and symptoms in the early stages. Ovarian cancer is generally diagnosed after it has spread to other parts of the body.

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly.
  • Always feeling like you have to urinate, or having to urinate often.
Women sitting at table talking

At MSD, we are focused on translating breakthrough science into oncology therapeutics. We recognize that no two patients or cancers are the same, and multiple approaches – therapeutic regimens and mechanisms of action – will be needed to outpace this disease. That’s why we have worked rigorously to expand and diversify our own internal research programs.

There is still work to be done, but we believe strongly in our potential to transform the way certain cancers are treated. And, we are constantly inspired to work harder by stories like Dr. Rosalind Franklin’s.