Our £1.5m of Movember Foundation Translational Awards will ensure four groundbreaking projects make it through the labs and into clinical trials, accelerating new treatments for men with prostate cancer.

1 Dec 2015

New lab research

Four labs around the UK have been awarded funding for exciting new research into prostate cancer, all of them promising to lead to clinical trials of better treatments. Funded by a generous donation from the Movember Foundation, the projects will investigate a range of ideas with promising early results...

1. Hypoxia-targeted treatments

We awarded £331,429 to Dr Ananya Choudhury at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, who will develop a clinical tool to find men with the lowest levels of oxygen in their prostate tumours. These men typically do not respond well to radiotherapy, but doctors can sort this out by raising oxygen levels in a number of ways. Or we might even be able to turn it to our advantage by using drugs which target areas of the body with low oxygen levels. First of all, though, we need to understand which men have these really low oxygen levels. Dr Choudhury will devise a clinical test to identify them based on the patterns of genes that are turned on or off in the tumour sample from their initial biopsy.

2. Statins and hormone therapy

Professor Hing Leung, at the Unversity of Glasgow, will use his £463,460 grant to run a phase II clinical trial to test whether taking statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol levels) alongside hormone therapy can slow growth of hormone resistant prostate cancers and make treatments like abiraterone and enzalutamide work better. This question has raised a lot of speculation among the research community, and it never seems long before there’s something else about statins and prostate cancer in the press. The trouble is that because most of the research in this area has been done retrospectively (looking back at men who just happened to be taking statins for another condition at the same time as they had hormone therapy for prostate cancer), it’s never been possible to draw any definite conclusions because of all the other variables involved. A controlled, prospective study like this is the only way to really get to the bottom of this potentially really important question.

3. Whole-body MRI scans

We also awarded £211,580 to Professor Dow-Mu Koh at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He will investigate whether a special type of whole-body MRI scan – called diffusion weighted whole body MRI – can give detailed enough information about what’s happening to prostate cancer that’s spread to the bones to be able to tell how well treatment is working. This is really important for two reasons. Firstly, if this works then doctors could use it to make sure that men don’t end up taking drugs that don’t work for them. Secondly, it could be used as an endpoint measurement in a clinical trial. This will be much faster than using overall survival as an endpoint and could speed up the time it takes to test treatments for advanced prostate cancer. If we can speed up clinical trials then we can make it cheaper, and quicker to develop the new treatments that are urgently needed for men with advanced prostate cancer.

4. MRI with biomarkers diagnosis

The final grant was awarded to Dr Hayley Whitaker at University College London. She will use her £450,112 grant to test whether we can improve prostate cancer diagnosis by combining a panel of biomarkers with a new type of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging that allows more detailed analysis of the prostate. If that works, it might mean we can find more men who need treatment earlier, and spare more men who don’t need treatment from the side effects associated with treatments and tests for prostate cancer. It would also ensure that these improvements are as cost effective as possible for the NHS. (Read more about Hayley's work in our recent blog post.)

These projects will go some way to helping us take another step towards getting the answers we so desperately need to reduce the number of men who die from prostate cancer every year in the UK. Funding this work has only been made possible through the thousands of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas that take part in Movember every year.

- Dr Matthew Hobbs, Deputy Director of Research, Prostate Cancer UK
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