Using a disappearing act to stop prostate cancer growth

What you need to know

  • Professor Johann de Bono wants to find a new way of treating prostate cancer that could help men in advanced stages of the disease.
  • Most treatments work by blocking the androgen receptor, but he will test a new drug that makes it disappear instead. He hopes this will keep cancer controlled for longer, even if it’s become resistant to other medicines.
  • This could improve the quality and length of life in men who have limited treatment options available.
We could very quickly move to clinical trials and new treatments for men who would otherwise have few other options. That’s why this funding from Movember and Prostate Cancer UK is so vital.
Professor Johann de Bono

A new line of attack for treatment resistant cancer

The androgen receptor is the main driver of prostate cancer growth and spread. Hormone therapies work by blocking the action of the androgen receptor or starving it of fuel. However, over time the androgen receptor changes and adapts, which means these treatments eventually stop working.

In this study, Professor Johann de Bono wants to test a different approach – one that makes the androgen receptor disappear. He will see if this new line of attack keeps prostate cancer controlled for longer, even if it’s become resistant to other treatments.

Now you see it, now you don’t

Professor de Bono plans to target important molecules in prostate cancer cells called heat shock proteins. These proteins help to keep the androgen receptor stable. Professor de Bono will block these proteins so that the androgen receptor becomes unstable. This will cause cancer cells to break down the receptor, making it disappear.

Professor de Bono will be building on the work of Professor Paul Workman and colleagues, who have studied ways of targeting various heat shock proteins over the last 10 years. Professor de Bono will use a drug that blocks heat shock proteins in the lab, first testing it on cancer cells that are still responding to other medicines, and then on those that are not, to see if it helps overcome treatment resistance.

Paving the way for better treatments

Because this project is looking at existing drugs, this research could very quickly lead to small scale clinical trials, testing the effect of blocking heat shock proteins in men with treatment resistant cancer. Larger clinical trials could follow, assessing the drug’s impact on men’s quality of life and life expectancy. It will hopefully lead to new treatments for men who have stopped responding to other hormone therapies, helping them live longer.  

Grant information

Reference - RIA18-ST2-011
Researcher - 
 Professor Johann de Bono
Institution - The Institute of Cancer Research, London