A cocktail of prostate cancer drugs has been found to be effective at treating men with a particularly aggressive form of advanced prostate cancer.
The combination of an existing drug, called abiraterone, and an experimental compound called ipatasertib, reduced the risk of death or cancer progression in patients by 23 per cent when compared to current treatment methods.
Researchers focused on men whose tumours lacked a gene known as PTEN. The role of PTEN is to suppress the growth of tumours, and in men who lack it, their tumours grow at a rapid pace.
Around half of men with advanced prostate cancer have tumours with faulty PTEN genes, including more than 10,000 men per year in the UK.
Men with this form of cancer often have a worse prognosis and the findings could open up the combination treatment as a new targeted approach to keep patients healthy for longer.
Pharmaceutical giant Roche funded the study, which was also carried out in conjunction with the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).
Men diagnosed with prostate cancer in England
More than 1,000 men across 26 countries were recruited for the phase three clinical trial and 521 had PTEN tumours.
Six out of 10 of the men who lacked PTEN and were given the pioneering combination saw their tumour shrink. Just 39 per cent of patients taking abiraterone alone saw their tumours get smaller.
One in five of the people trialling the combination went into complete remission, with all signs of disease vanishing. Just six per cent of those on abiraterone alone went into remission.
The drug combination works by simultaneously switching off two powerful growth signals that fuel prostate cancer.
However, researchers led by the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said longer follow-up would be needed before the combination could get regulatory approval or be accessed on the NHS.
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Study leader Johann de Bono, a professor of experimental cancer medicine at the ICR and consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have shown that combining an existing and a new drug to attack cancer on two different fronts can keep men with prostate cancer healthier for longer.
“The findings offer a promising new treatment option for patients with a common and aggressive type of prostate cancer, and could eventually change clinical practice for these men.
“PTEN is one of the most commonly deleted genes in prostate cancer, so this study offers hope to many patients.”
Professor Paul Workman, the chief executive of the ICR, said: “This new study brings together abiraterone, a gold standard prostate cancer medicine which was discovered at the ICR, and a new experimental drug, in order to slow down cancer’s growth and progression.
“The combination could extend the time before men’s prostate cancer worsens, helping keep them healthy for longer so that they can spend as much time as possible with their loved ones.”