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researchers co-lead "game changing" study on prostate cancer

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have been awarded £1.4m to co-lead a "game changing" study on prostate cancer.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast and the Institute of Cancer Research in London will focus on developing targeted treatment pathways specifically for men with advanced disease not yet resistant to hormone therapy.

It has been hailed as a "first of its kind" study to extend the lives of men with incurable prostate cancer.

The latest research drive from the national men’s health charity marks a significant shift from the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment, towards identifying what drives an individual man’s cancer, and which drugs will work best to stop it in its tracks.

Professor David Waugh, who is leading the research at Queen’s University Belfast said: "This is a timely and exciting undertaking, which has the potential to significantly extend the lives of men living with terminal prostate cancer in the UK. This is more than just a clinical trial; researchers from both the lab and the clinic will be working side by side in a bid to bring about change as quickly as possible. As a result, we’ll be in a position to open the first arm of the trial to patients from as early as next year, whilst we continue to develop new treatments and precision medicine approaches in the lab."

The study, which has been co-funded by Prostate Cancer UK, the Movember Foundation and the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride will tackle three key issues:

  • Identify changes in the DNA make up of prostate cancer cells not yet resistant to hormone therapy, that are responsible for driving the cancer cell growth.

  • Develop a test which can easily detect these genetic changes.

  • Establish which drugs best target the genetic changes and prevent the cancer from spreading further.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK said: "Every man’s prostate cancer is unique to him and so not surprisingly the way men respond to treatments varies enormously. Clinicians are in effect left to treat patients ‘in the dark’ – with little idea as to which treatments will work best for which men.

"However, this new research programme could be game changing, providing clinicians with the much clearer picture they desperately need. It will enable them to go straight to the right treatment for each individual man, saving precious time for those men who often have little time left."

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with over 47,000 new diagnoses every year in the UK. Around a quarter of these are diagnosed after the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, reducing the chances of successful treatment and survival.

Men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer are typically treated with hormone therapy, and move on to life extending treatments once hormone therapy has stopped working.

The first study of Prostate Cancer UK’s precision medicine programme will specifically focus on men with advanced prostate cancer before it has become resistant to hormone therapy.

Dr Frame added: "This is the first time ever that this precision approach has been used to treat men at this stage of disease. We know from other studies involving men with advanced prostate cancer that starting additional treatments alongside hormone therapy before resistance develops can prolong their life – sometimes significantly.

"We want to build on that, and establish which combinations work the best for which men, develop additional new treatments and help extend more lives."

Researchers have assembled a pan-UK group of investigators who will use state-of-the-art technology to study thousands of tumours and develop tests that tell doctors which drug or combination of drugs will work best for an individual patient.

Dr Gert Attard, who is leading the research at the Institute of Cancer Research said: "By targeting treatment we aim to maximise its effectiveness, whilst minimising unnecessary side-effects and financial costs from the use of ineffective drugs.

"Working with nearly one hundred hospitals in the UK, we are committed to improving our treatment approaches and achieving long-term disease control for the majority of men and for an increasing proportion, complete cure from their disease."

Paul Villanti, Executive Director of Programmes, Movember Foundation added: "We have witnessed a rapid acceleration in our understanding of the genetic make-up of prostate cancer in recent years and the Movember Foundation is delighted to now fund this world-class research that will build upon these advances in knowledge to identify practical applications that benefit men with more targeted and timely treatments.

"This will drive the better outcomes these men and their families so critically need, and we thank the Movember community for all that they are doing to change the face of men’s health."