23 Jul 2020

New research: Saliva DNA tests, precision medicine and three new hormone therapies.

Our Head Of Research Simon Grieveson, tuned into the worlds biggest cancer conference to hear from the scientists you've helped to fund.

From targeted treatments to saliva-based DNA tests, some very exciting potential new ways to treat and diagnose prostate cancer are being developed.

Simon Grieveson, our Head of Research Funding, went to The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, one of the biggest meetings in cancer research to hear from the scientists you help fund, and what these breakthroughs could mean for men.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference is one of the biggest and most prestigious meetings in cancer research. This year, with the world in lockdown, it had to move online for the very first time, with researchers from around the world presenting their work direct from their living rooms. But the conference was still packed with exciting developments in prostate cancer research which could soon make a real difference to men and their families. 

A hat-trick of new treatments for hormone-resistant disease

There were three promising new treatments presented for men whose cancer has started to become resistant to hormone therapy, but hasn’t yet spread outside the prostate.

They all work in the same way – by blocking the androgen receptor, a key driver of prostate cancer growth and spread. The results from all three trials strongly suggest that using these drugs alongside standard hormone therapy helps this group of men live significantly longer than using hormone therapy alone.

Even better news is that these treatments could soon be made available to men across the UK. All three drugs, darolutamide, apalutamide and enzalutamide, are being reviewed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which must approve medicines before they enter the NHS. We’ll find out as soon as November 2020 for darolutamide, and the apalutamide and enzalutamide reviews are scheduled for later in 2021. 

Huge progress with a saliva DNA test for aggressive prostate cancer

Building an effective screening programme that detects prostate cancer early and accurately is one of the best ways we can stop so many men dying from the disease. The PROSTAGRAM trial hit headlines earlier in the year, using a ‘fast MRI scanning technique’ to improve the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis. But I was also intrigued by the work of one of our funded researchers, Professor Ros Eeles who’s working on another way to test for aggressive prostate cancer.

"This project could take us one step closer to a prostate cancer screening programme."

Thanks to previous funding from us, and others, Professor Eeles has developed a saliva-based test that can identify men at high risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. The test looks for DNA changes in over 130 different genes linked to the disease. In the pilot phase of her study, Professor Eeles used this test to ‘scan’ men for their genetic risk of prostate cancer – and gave those at higher risk more follow-up checks. She showed the saliva-based test was safe, accurate and feasible to use on a large scale.

Now the project has scaled up, recruiting 5,000 more men to find out if this type of genetic screening can identify men at greatest risk of prostate cancer and detect their cancer earlier, at a stage where it is potentially curable. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this project, which could take us one step closer to a prostate cancer screening programme.

Precision medicine: choosing the right treatment using men’s DNA

While the treatments we use for advanced prostate cancer can be very effective for some men, sadly they don’t all work for everyone. That’s why, in 2017, we launched our precision medicine programmes, to explore whether the genetic make-up of each man’s prostate cancer can give us clues as to what would be the most effective treatment for them.

Three years later, it’s fantastic to see the progress that the two lead researchers from these programmes, Professor Johann de Bono and Professor Gert Attard, have made in this field.

Both Professor de Bono and Professor Attard have identified specific changes in prostate cancer DNA that tell us whether particular treatments are likely to work or not. During the conference, both groups presented an update on their work, revealing the potential for these changes to predict which patients responded to their treatment. Now, they’re developing blood tests to detect these genetic changes, so doctors can go straight to the right treatment for each individual man.

With funding from Movember, we’re supporting the PARADIGM trial to find out if the blood test developed by Professor Attard and his team can help doctors choose the best course of treatment for men with advanced, hormone therapy-resistant prostate cancer. If successful, this test could help thousands of men with advanced disease live longer, by making sure they get the right treatment sooner.

It’s one of the reasons we champion a precision medicine approach – to ensure all men with prostate cancer get the best outcome possible. But it’s only thanks to you that we can continue to fund the research that will get us there.

Protecting the future of prostate cancer research

Research is crucial to finding new ways to treat and diagnose prostate cancer, to stop it killing men and damaging bodies and lives. ASCO 2020 highlighted just how many major breakthroughs are on the horizon – all of which could mean big rewards for men and their families.

But much of this life-saving research is at risk. The Covid-19 lockdown brought prostate cancer research across the UK to a standstill. Now that labs are slowly starting to re-open, it’s essential we give our researchers the time and resources they need so their progress isn’t lost.

We need your support more than ever to get our research back on track and help give men the future they deserve.

Donate now to help protect the future of prostate cancer research.