Dr Ian Le Guillou looks back at some of 2017's highlights from the world of prostate cancer research – all of which we had a hand in bringing about thanks to your generous donations.
It’s incredible to see how quickly progress is being made in some fields of prostate cancer research. But this hasn't just happened overnight. A lot of it is thanks to your donations over many years, allowing us to fund long-term studies that only now are really starting to pay off.
As we’ve ramped up our investment in research over the past decade, we can look forward to the pace of progress accelerating even further in the years to come. But for now, here are just some of our scientific breakthroughs from 2017. Thank you for your support and here's to even more exciting research in 2018.
The eagerly anticipated results from the PROMIS trial of mpMRI were officially published in January this year, showing that a MRI scans could help avoid unnecessary biopsies. This came 10 years after we first provided funding for the researchers to gather the early-stage data needed for the trial. As the results were published, we released the results of our Freedom of Information requests to NHS Trusts, which showed that only a third of men in the UK would be able to access the technology.
Our research made the headlines in April as our work on liquid biopsies led to a blood test costing under £50, which could predict which men are resistant to abiraterone. We’re now funding a trial to put this into practice and prove that tailoring men’s treatments can help them to live for longer.
You wait ages for an exciting new blood test and then two come along at once! Shortly after the abiraterone test came a new test for detecting mutations in DNA repair genes. Cancers with these mutations are vulnerable to treatment with olaparib, an ovarian cancer drug, and we’re funding research to find out which mutations are important.
In June, two trials showed that men with advanced prostate cancer can expect to live longer if they are given the drug abiraterone earlier, so that it’s taken alongside hormone therapy rather than waiting until the cancer becomes resistant to hormone therapy. However, we have yet to see how it compares to early treatment with docetaxel, which is the current standard treatment for advanced disease.
New research suggested that tall men and obese men are at a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer. One theory for the reason behind this is high levels of the protein IGF1 in these men. This protein will be investigated in new research, part-funded by us, next year and could potentially lead to treatments that could prevent aggressive prostate cancer.
In 2016, the CHHiP trial showed that fewer but more intense sessions of radiotherapy were just as effective as the standard procedure. In 2017, using all the data collected from the trial, researchers found a set of factors (like a man’s genetics) that could predict the risk of side effects from the treatment. In future, this could help men to choose the best treatment option for them.
Researchers at the Belfast-Manchester Movember Centre of Excellence discovered a pattern of gene activity that could predict if localised prostate cancer is aggressive. By finding a set of 70 genes that are also active in metastatic cancer, the scientists hope that this could help men to choose if they need radical therapy.
2017 saw the launch of our most ambitious research project yet. We funded a £1.4 million programme of work to kick-start a revolution in precision medicine. Involving over 100 hospitals and scientists, we will be building on the infrastructure of the STAMPEDE trial to start trialling medicines based on the genetics of each man’s cancer.