A new immunotherapy treatment was in the news today, after a recent clinical trial showed it could extend the lives of some men with very advanced prostate cancer for up to two years.

28 Nov 2019

A new immunotherapy treatment was in the news today, after a recent clinical trial showed it could extend the lives of some men with very advanced prostate cancer for up to two years. We take a look behind the headlines, to work out what these results could mean for men.

The new research, published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, tested an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab in 258 men with very advanced prostate cancer who had run out of other treatment options. They found that 1 in 20 men, who they called “super responders’”, gained up to an additional two years of life thanks to the drug.

A further 1 in 5 men lived for an average of 14.1 months on the trial, and most men on the trial lived for an average of eight months.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that involves training men’s immune systems to fight the cancer themselves. We’ve seen some very promising results in other cancers, like blood and skin cancer, but less benefit has been seen from immunotherapy for men with prostate cancer.

These results are exciting, as it suggests this kind of immunotherapy drug may benefit some men with advanced prostate cancer, and give them more time with their families. However, we’ll need to see the drug tested in a larger group of men in a phase III trial before it can be used in the clinic.

These results are exciting, as it suggests this kind of immunotherapy drug may benefit some men with advanced prostate cancer, and give them more time with their families.

And while the benefits to the “super responders” were significant, only a small subset of men were part of this group. Going forward, it will be important to find a way to identify the men most likely to respond to pembrolizumab, so we can make sure men are only given treatments they are likely to benefit from.

As part of our Precision Medicine programme, Prostate Cancer UK have funded research to develop a test to just that, and find the men most likely to respond to pembrolizumab. Now, this test is being used in another phase II trial, called PERSEUS, to test pembrolizumab in men who are mostly likely to benefit from the drug.

As well as finding ways to give the right immunotherapy treatments to the right men, it’s also important we fund research into new immunotherapy treatments, that could work for more men. We’re funding £1.7 million worth of research in this area; from a prostate cancer vaccine, to a new treatment that could reprogramme immune cells to fight prostate cancer. 

We've also committed to funding an additional £2 million worth of immunotherapy research, to help bring immunotherapy treatments to more men with prostate cancer sooner. We’re currently assessing the research proposals, and look forward to announcing which of the most promising projects we have been able to fund.

If you have questions about trials, worries about prostate cancer or other prostate problems, get in contact with our Specialist Nurses. Call 0800 074 8383 (Monday-Friday: 9am-6pm, Wednesday: 10am-8pm) or chat with us online.

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