Dr Charlotte Bevan, of Imperial College London, has published some exciting research, part-funded by us, that brings us a step closer to finding a solution to the problem of hormone resistance in prostate cancer. Scientists in Dr Bevan’s lab have engineered a protein to prevent the androgen receptor from working - even when a tumour has become resistant to current hormone therapies. The androgen receptor is an important target for prostate cancer drugs, because it’s the receptor that drives cancer growth.
The new man-made protein developed by Dr Bevan is different to current hormone therapies, because it targets the androgen receptor (AR) in two ways. Firstly, it gets in the way of the interaction between the receptor and the partner proteins that usually help it to signal. Secondly, it brings the AR into close contact with a signal repressor, which blocks it from giving the go ahead to cancer cells to grow when it’s bound to testosterone (the usual trigger for cancer cell growth).
What’s even more exciting about this man-made protein is that it can still block AR signalling, even in lab-simulated conditions of hormone resistance, for example when there are more androgen receptor ‘partner’ proteins than usual, or when the AR becomes altered so that it no longer needs testosterone to be able to give cancer cells the green light to grow. These early results suggest that this is a very worthwhile avenue to pursue in the search for new treatments to extend the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer.
The results of this study were recently reported in The Daily Mail, and while it’s great to hear that awareness of prostate cancer is increasing and that it’s getting the headlines it deserves, we also don’t want to raise any false hopes.
This new therapy is at the very earliest stages of development. Dr Bevan and her colleagues have shown that it works in theory; in carefully controlled cell-based simulations of prostate cancer, and we’re now funding a PhD student in Dr Bevan’s lab to study this protein in more depth to make sure that it both works well and is safe enough to begin testing in patients. Dr Bevan and her student also want to develop a new way to deliver this drug directly to the cancer cells, while not affecting normal tissue.
This research is really exciting, and brings hope of an eventual treatment for advanced prostate cancer. However it’s still far too early to put a timescale on its journey to the clinic.