Breast cancer pill that uses patient’s genetic make-up to target tumours is set to revolutionise prostate treatment and extend thousands of lives

  • The daily pill is said to work in 80 per cent of cases of men with certain genes
  • This could benefit up to 4k men every year, delaying the disease becoming lethal
  • Despite rapid advances in other cancer types, the number of British men dying from prostate cancer is increasing, and now stands at 11,800 every year 

The first personalised drug for prostate cancer is set to revolutionise treatment and extend the lives of thousands.

A daily pill using a patient’s genetic make-up to undermine a tumour’s defences is said to work in 80 per cent of men with certain genes.

Experts believe the treatment – which is already available for ovarian cancer – could benefit up to 4,000 men every year, delaying the moment when the disease becomes deadly.

The British research, presented at the world’s biggest cancer conference, pave the way for the first personalised – or ‘precision’ – medicine for prostate cancer.

A daily pill using a patient’s genetic make-up to undermine a tumour’s defences is said to work in 80 per cent of men with certain genes (stock image) 

These target cancers according to genetic make-up, rather than the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

The Daily Mail is campaigning for an improvement in prostate cancer treatments and diagnosis, which lag behind other diseases such as breast cancer.

Despite rapid advances in other cancer types, the number of British men dying from prostate cancer is increasing, and now stands at 11,800 each year.

Scientists led by London’s Institute of Cancer Research tracked 100 men with advanced prostate cancer who had failed to fight the disease with other treatments. 

The new drug, called olaparib, delayed disease progression among those who responded for an average of 8.3 months – and for 35 per cent the cancer stopped spreading for more than a year.

The pill is not a cure – and so far only freezes the cancer in its tracks – but researchers are confident further trials will also show it can give dying men extra years. Study leader Professor Johann de Bono, who addressed the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago, said: ‘Our study shows just how powerful genetic targeting and precision medicine can be. By testing for DNA repair mutations, we can select those patients with a high chance of responding well to olaparib.

Scientists led by London’s Institute of Cancer Research tracked 100 men with advanced prostate cancer who had failed to fight the disease with other treatments (stock image)

‘Overall, between one in three and one in four men with lethal prostate cancer respond – that means 3,000 or 4,000 men a year in the UK would benefit.’

In rare cases, he said men had survived on the drug for ten years. ‘We are seeing many men taking them for more than a year,’ he said. Experts are excited about the findings – and four bigger trials are underway.

If, as expected, these results are successful, the drug could be in use by the NHS within two years. The treatments exploit a weakness in cancer cells’ defence to kill a tumour without harming healthy cells. The drug, which costs £3,550 a month, was made available on the NHS for ovarian cancer three years ago and should be in use for breast cancer soon.

But it was only through Professor de Bono’s persistence – and charity funding – that the same trials were launched for prostate cancer.

‘[It] is not prioritised by the drug companies – it really is the Cinderella,’ he said. Experts welcomed the findings. Professor Ian Davis of Monash University in Melbourne said: ‘Prostate cancer is years behind in targeted treatments. Treatments such as olaparib seem to be the best shot of closing that gap.’

Paul Villanti, of the charity Movember, said: ‘It’s very exciting to see existing treatments repurposed to benefit men.’

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