Breakthrough in prostate cancer treatment could combat disease's drug resistance

The study was triggered by signs that patients with aggressive and resistant forms of the disease had much higher levels of myeloid RNA in their blood. Credit: PA

Prostate cancer can become resistant to treatment - but researchers have discovered how to combat this in what has been hailed a "major scientific advance".

The breakthrough could lead to new ways to treat the disease, and a greater understanding of why it resists drugs.

In an early clinical trial, scientists used a combination of treatments to block the messages cancer uses to “hijack” white blood cells.

The drugs led to tumours shrinking or not growing any further.

The team was led by the Institute of Cancer Research in London, the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR) in Switzerland.

Johann De Bono, a professor of experimental cancer medicine at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This research proves for the first time that targeting myeloid cells rather than the cancer cells themselves can shrink tumours and benefit patients.

“This is tremendously exciting and it suggests we have an entirely new way to treat prostate cancer on the horizon.”

The study was made up of a group of patients with advanced prostate cancer which was no longer responding to hormone therapy.

Out of 21 patients evaluated, researchers found five (24%) responded to the experimental drug and hormone therapy.

They either showed signs their tumours had shrunk by more than 30%, a drop in levels of tumour cells in their blood, or a decrease in prostate specific antigen, which is normally increased by cancer.

The study builds on a decade of work by the team, which has been exploring how myeloid cells fuel prostate cancers.

Professor De Bono added: “We’ve been studying these myeloid cells at the ICR for many years.

“It’s hugely rewarding to see our theory proven in a trial of patients with this disease.

“Myeloid cells may be implicated in treatment resistance in a range of cancers, so the impact of this research could be very broad, across multiple cancer types.”

He said the team is now planning to run a clinical trial.

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