Prostate Cancer UK and Movember funded researchers have grabbed attention from scientists and the media both here and in the US after presenting their results at a high profile American cancer conference.
We’ve talked about Professor de Bono and Dr Joaquin Mateo’s work before, and their earlier suspicions of good news to come. But at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference in Philadelphia this week, they gave the first detailed presentation of the results of their phase two clinical trial, demonstrating that men with advanced prostate cancer benefit from treatment with olaparib.
Olaparib is a drug that counteracts the effects of a BRCA gene mutation, and was licensed for use in ovarian cancer in December last year. Their announcement at the conference generated a lot of interest from other scientists, as well as from the US and UK media.
They reported that PSA levels fell, and prostate tumours stopped growing, in 16 of the 49 men taking olaparib (just over 30 per cent). None of the men on the trial had inherited a BRCA gene mutation, but the scientists thought there was a chance that they might develop spontaneously in some men, which is why they decided to test olaparib in men who hadn’t inherited the mutation.
Sure enough, they found BRCA gene mutations in 14 of the 16 men who responded well to olaparib. This suggests that clinicians could use DNA tests to work out which patients will respond well to olaparib before they start taking it. And that could save men time and distress from taking a drug that doesn’t work for them. It could also save the NHS money, by not prescribing drugs that don’t work.
Another important message from this research is one we’ve said before, and will definitely say again. Research into ways we can use existing drugs to treat diseases other than those they were originally designed for is incredibly important, as is researching ways to use existing drugs more efficiently. This is the surest and fastest way to find drugs that work for the men who need them.
We can learn so much from the successes of treatments for other cancers...we hope to see more of this.
Our Director of Research, Dr Iain Frame, summed it up when he said: "We want to get to a stage where every man gets the treatment he needs for his specific cancer. The use of DNA testing to identify mutations like BRCA and direct treatment to them is a huge step in that direction and so these early results are very exciting.
"We can learn so much from the successes of treatments for other cancers and we hope to see more of this to come. However, we still need to understand more about what makes prostate cancer cells tick so that we can find the right treatment at the right time for every man."
Yesterday, at a national cancer conference, exciting new results were revealed from a clinical trial of a drug in men with advanced prostate cancer. The trial, funded in part by Prostate Cancer UK and the Movember Foundation, is investigating the use of a drug called olaparib which is used to treat women with ovarian cancer.