The two pilot awards at King’s College London – granted to Dr Sophie Papa and Dr Christine Galustian – are both looking at ways to manipulate the immune system to deliver more targeted treatments for men with prostate cancer. Dr Papa is testing if a new protein drug called FAB4 can help direct immune cells in the body towards prostate cancer cells and whether it helps them destroy the tumour. If successful, this could provide a new treatment for men affected by advanced prostate cancer.
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, talks about the new research grants awarded this year.
This week, we are celebrating the announcement of the new research grants awarded by Prostate Cancer UK. There are 17 grants in total, based in 14 universities or research institutes across the UK. We will be investing £2.7m over the next three years in the most promising research to work towards improving the lives of men with prostate cancer.
Two of those awards – we call them pilots – are at King’s College London and are relatively small in terms of funding but huge in terms of potential to make a real difference through research. We provide funding for pilot awards to help researchers learn more about certain areas so as they can go on and develop new diagnostic tests or treatments through getting larger awards either from us or other funders of prostate cancer research.
Dr Galustian is focusing on a group of proteins called cytokines, which can help boost the body’s immune system to fight and destroy cancer cells; and antibodies that block a type of white blood cell that stops the immune system killing cancer cells. The problem with both cytokines and antibodies is that they are both toxic and can cause autoimmune reactions (where the body attacks healthy tissue). Dr Galustian’s pilot award is looking at adding a specific molecule, much like a tail, to these proteins which will make them attach to nearby cells and tissues and stop them circulating around the body. This would allow doctors to inject these proteins into the site of the prostate tumour knowing they wouldn’t spread elsewhere; focussing the treatment and lessening the side-effects. Exciting stuff!
Both of these pilot awards are based in the laboratory and are looking at improving current treatments. Currently, there is a treatment for targeting the immune system but it is only available for patients with late stage prostate cancer. When prostate cancer reaches this advanced stage, the immune system is already weakened, and it is difficult to boost the response against the tumour and target the area most needed. Men who have reached this stage of advanced prostate cancer have very limited treatment options, which is why it’s so vitally important we fund research pilot awards like Dr Papa’s and Dr Galustian’s. I will be watching how this area progresses with great interest and look forward to updating you as it progresses.
Dr Iain Frame