Irish-based scientists make prostate cancer breakthrough

Ulster University researchers discover ‘hugely significant’ new treatment for disease

Ulster University’s Dr Declan McKenna, who led a study into  the treatment of prostate cancer. File photograph: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University/PA Wire

Ulster University’s Dr Declan McKenna, who led a study into the treatment of prostate cancer. File photograph: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University/PA Wire


Scientists at Ulster University have discovered a new treatment that they described as “hugely significant” in the battle against prostate cancer.

The new treatment could effectively prevent tumour growth, spread and patient relapse, according to the scientists.

In what they said was a “world first”, the scientists discovered that combining an existing hormone therapy, known as androgen deprivation, with a new drug called OCT1002 can improve treatment effectiveness.

It works by targeting more resistant cancer cells and preventing malignancy and the spread of the disease, said Dr Declan McKenna, who led the research.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in Northern Ireland.

About 1,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.

The five-year survival rate is just under 90 per cent. However, for men diagnosed with advanced stage four cancer, the five-year survival rate is only 22 per cent.

“The new research builds upon Ulster University’s discovery earlier this year that low oxygen levels in prostate cancer tumours are responsible for triggering genetic changes.

“Those changes accelerate the growth of new cancer cells and can cause patients to relapse within two years of starting the traditional hormone therapy treatment,” said Dr McKenna.

“This new discovery is hugely significant. Hormone therapy is an effective treatment but its success with more resistant cancer cells is limited.

“By combining hormone therapy with this new drug, we have for the first time discovered a way to destroy these resistant cells that may otherwise lead to relapse or the spread of cancer cells,” he said.

“Our next step is to consider a move to clinical trials so we can focus on testing this combined therapy and ultimately develop tailored treatments for individual prostate cancer patients globally.”

Study funding

The three-year Ulster University study was supported by Prostate Cancer UK through a £213,000 (about €238,000) grant from the Movember Foundation.

The latest results are published by the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Prostate Cancer UK deputy director of research Dr Matthew Hobbs said that hormone therapy is an effective treatment for men living with advanced prostate cancer.

“It can help to keep the disease at bay and many men continue to lead a good quality of life for many years.

“However, after time it stops working and men are left with just a handful of further treatment options,” he said.

“Although it’s still early days, this drug may offer a completely new way to treat prostate cancer, increasing the amount of time that hormone therapy works for and potentially giving men precious extra time with their loved ones.”

Dr Hobbs said that prostate cancer kills more than 11,000 men in the UK every year.