Analysis of advanced prostate tumour DNA could identify suitability for immunotherapy

A distinct genetic pattern has been discovered that could determine whether men with advanced prostate cancer could benefit from immunotherapy. The research results could be a significant breakthrough in treating the most serious forms of the disease.

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What is immunotherapy?

The idea behind immunotherapy is to harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. It does this by ‘alerting’ the immune system to the presence of abnormal cancer cells, so they can be destroyed. Our bodies do not recognise cancer cells as foreign, because they are generated by healthy cells.

However, while it can be highly effective, researchers have struggled to find an effective way to use immunotherapy to treat prostate cancer.

What did the study find?

Researchers at London’s Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the University of Michigan analysed the DNA of the tumours of 360 men. In 7% of these tumours, copies of the CDK12 gene were not present. This indicated the tumour had an increased number of immune cells than other types of advanced prostate cancer and could therefore respond to immunotherapy.

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What are the next steps?

Researchers now hope to expand their study, with the aim of developing a genetic test that could be conducted prior to treating a patient with immunotherapy drugs, to determine whether they could be effective.

The findings of the study come at a time of exciting developments in the field of immunotherapy. For example, a recent clinical trial conducted by ICR and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust found that a new immunotherapy drug can extend the life of men with no other treatment options.

Discoveries such as these highlight the importance of voluntary and paid research studies to making life-saving breakthroughs. Indeed, Regius Professor of Cancer Research at ICR, Professor Johann de Bono, has been reported as calling for “larger clinical studies” to look at immunotherapy.

Healthy volunteers are used in clinical trials, such as the Paid Research Studies by Trials4us, as part of the lengthy process of getting new drugs to market. Patients can also ask their clinical team about any trials for which they may be suitable.

It is clear that immunotherapy is a real ‘game-changer’ for treating certain cancers and other diseases. However, when it comes to exploiting its potential, doctors and researchers are just scratching the surface.

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