Researchers to investigate new drug to stop incurable prostate cancer spread

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – and the second leading cause of death in men – and there is no cure when it spreads to the bone.

Dr Toby Phesse and Dr Helen Pearson, from the University’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, have received £491,731 from the charity Prostate Cancer Research (PCR) to investigate how a specific cell signalling pathway is controlling the spread of prostate cancer to the bone.

Scan showing prostate cancer that has spread to the spine. Credit: Dr Tom Rackley, consultant clinical oncologist at Velindre Cancer Centre

They will target the Wnt pathway, a set of signals which are active in advanced and metastatic types of this cancer, to see whether blocking this pathway could halt the spread of cancer cells as a novel therapeutic strategy.

Dr Phesse said: “One of the reasons that prostate cancer has such a poor survival rate is related to the lack of effective treatments for advanced prostate cancer, where it has spread around the body. New treatments are urgently needed.

“Our research focuses on a set of signals in cells called the Wnt pathway, this causes the prostate cancer to grow and move around. This pathway is overactive in advanced prostate cancer, driving aggressive cancer.

“Our research has shown that blocking this Wnt pathway could act as a treatment for advanced prostate cancer.”

Dr Pearson said: “There is a drug that blocks the Wnt pathway which is already being tested in patients with other cancers. We aim to investigate whether this drug can treat advanced prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer most commonly spreads to bone. If we can understand what factors are controlling how prostate cancer spreads to the bone, we can potentially target them for therapy.

“This work will provide vital information to help develop new treatments for this currently incurable aspect of prostate cancer.”

In 2020, PCR launched a report on prostate cancer research and funding which highlighted a knowledge gap around prostate cancer spreading to bone and also revealed that over 60% of prostate cancer funding in the UK was concentrated within the so-called “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge, whereas Wales received just 2% of this funding.

In response, PCR stated it would fund the best scientists with the best ideas, irrespective of where they are based.

Dr Naomi Elster, Head of Research at PCR, said: “This project has the potential to fill a very important gap in our knowledge, and one that stands in the way of better patient care. This hopefully means we can soon offer more options to patients, whether they are diagnosed early or late.”

Source: Cardiff University