A combined approach to harness the immune system against prostate cancer

What you need to know

  • Treatments that boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer do not work in most men with prostate cancer.
  • Professor Hardev Pandha and his team will test whether a cancer-killing virus, in combination with an immune-boosting drug, can trigger the immune system to attack prostate cancer
  • If successful, this treatment combination could provide a long-lasting immune response and improve cancer control
Prostate cancers have so far been left out of the immunotherapy revolution. These powerful new drugs are rapidly being adopted for other cancers as standard treatment. Almost 1 in 4 patients with advanced cancers will receive immunotherapy of some form – and we want to make sure men with prostate cancer can also benefit.
Professor Hardev Pandha

Prostate cancer treatment has not been able to take advantage of advances in immunotherapies because there are few immune cells found in prostate cancer. Professor Pandha aims to change this by using a combination of treatments to drive immune cells into prostate cancer that has spread throughout the body and trigger them to destroy it. 

Firing up the immune system

Advanced prostate cancer is currently incurable and one of the main hopes for finding a cure is by using the immune system to track and kill every last trace of cancer in the body. Cancers often develop defences that disarm the immune system, but a new generation of treatments, called checkpoint inhibitors, has helped to reverse this. However, this still relies on the immune system being able to access and recognise the cancer.

Getting the immune cells to the right place

The prostate has very few immune cells present, so these treatments have little effect in prostate cancer. Previous research that we funded showed that a cancer-killing virus can attract immune cells into the tumour. Once the right immune cells were in place, the checkpoint inhibitor treatment could activate them to start working against the cancer.

Combining three treatments

To help the immune system as much as possible, Professor Pandha believes that we need multi-pronged approach. A cancer-killing virus will help attract immune cells into the tumour, a new drug called an IL-15 superagonist will help to boost the activity of the immune system and a checkpoint inhibitor drug will then allow the immune system to have long-term effect.

Combining three treatments is very traditional in cancer treatments - for over 30 years doctor have used three types of chemotherapy for many common cancers. What may be different with immunotherapy is the timing of treatment. Giving each treatment in sequence, rather than at once, will give the immune system time to deliver the best response.

The team want to study how this treatment combination works and understand precisely what the immune response is. They will be using different forms of prostate cancer with different mutations and examining how these treatments work both in bone and the prostate.

Grant information

Reference – MA-IMM19-001

Researcher – Professor Hardev Pandha

Institution – University of Surrey

Award - £397,809