MAY 11, 2017 6:30 AM PDT

Towards Personalized Therapy for Prostate Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Men with prostate cancer need not waste precious time on drugs that may not work out for them. In studying the treatment response of hundreds of men receiving treatment for prostate cancer, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, say they’ve developed a blood test that can predict who will benefit from certain cancer treatments.

Image credit: pixabay.com

Prostate cancer represents a huge health risk – it is the most common form of cancer in men. In 2013, nearly 2.8 million men were living with prostate cancer in the US. While prostate cancer has one of the better 5-year survival rates, not all patients respond to treatment with success. In particular, two drugs, abiraterone and enzalutamide, have mixed responses.

"Abiraterone and enzalutamide are excellent treatments for advanced prostate cancer and some men can take these drugs for years without seeing a return of their cancer. But in other men, these drugs do not work well and the disease rapidly returns. Currently there is no approved test to help doctors choose whether these are the best treatments for an individual,” said Dr. Gerhardt Attard, the senior investigator of the study from the Institute of Cancer Research.

Attard’s team analyzed blood samples from men who were receiving abiraterone or enzalutamide. They collected samples from before treatment, and after disease progression.

They found that men with multiple copies of the androgen receptor gene were less likely to respond to the drug, and consequently, were four times more likely to succumb from the disease.

"We have developed a robust test that can be used in the clinic to pick out which men with advanced prostate cancer are likely to respond to abiraterone and enzalutamide, and which men might need alternative treatments,” said Dr. Attard.

The team estimate their test will be quite inexpensive but tremendously useful in tailoring treatment to individual patients. "Our method costs less than £50, is quick to provide results, and can be implemented in hospital laboratories across the NHS. We are now looking to assess our test in prospective clinical trials and would hope it can become part of standard patient care,” said Dr. Attard.

"A man with incurable prostate cancer does not have time to waste taking drugs that will not work for him. To stop prostate cancer from being a killer, we need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. This test could be a significant step towards that and we'll be watching its development very closely. Thanks to our supporters, we are ramping up investment in prostate cancer research to get the right drug for the right man at the right time,” said Dr. Iain Frame, the Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK.

The test still has be validated in clinical trials. “If further studies confirm this test is reliable, it could also help doctors choose better options for men whose prostate cancer is unlikely to respond to standard treatments,” said Dr. Emma Smith, science information manager at Cancer Research UK.

Additional source: Institute of Cancer Research

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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