Creating new targeted combination therapies for patients with prostate cancer that has spread outside the prostate (metastatic)

Background to the project

Docetaxel is a type of chemotherapy given to men with advanced prostate cancer. Previously, the team found a gene called SK1, which is involved in making prostate cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy. They discovered that adding a drug that inhibits SK1 as part of chemotherapy can make prostate cancer cells respond better to docetaxel, but can cause serious side effects to the patient’s white blood cells. This project therefore aimed to find a way of combining the SK1-inhibiting drug with docetaxel to improve the treatment of advanced prostate cancer, without causing side effects.

What they set out to do

To avoid the SK1-inhibiting drug causing side effects, the team created a new type of ‘nanoparticle’ that would deliver the drug specifically to prostate cancer cells, and not other tissues. The nanoparticles would also contain docetaxel, but would release the SK1 inhibitor first to weaken the cancer cells, before docetaxel is delivered to kill the cells. The researchers tested the drug-containing nanoparticles in mice with human prostate cancers.

What they found out

The team showed that the nanoparticles did release the SK1-inhibitor before docetaxel, and that the drug-containing nanoparticles were almost as effective as the ‘free’ drug, delivered without nanoparticles, at reducing the size of prostate cancer tumours. The researchers also found that the nanoparticles were taken up very well by the prostate cancer cells, but were not taken up well by non-cancer cells, and showed that this meant the nanoparticle-treated mice had less white blood cell loss than mice treated with free drug.

How this will benefit men

This work is in early stages, as it has only been tested in mice, but the team already have funding to mass produce the nanoparticles to use in a clinical trial for men with prostate cancer. If the same results are found, then this could be a new way to overcome resistance to docetaxel and improve survival of men with advanced prostate cancer.

Grant information

Institution - University of East Anglia
Researcher - Professor Colin Cooper
Grant award - £250,000
Duration - 2013-2017
Reference - PG12-14