Oxford researcher awarded nearly £1m to explore potentially ‘game-changing’ treatments for prostate cancer

A Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Member has been awarded almost £1m from Cancer Research UK to investigate a new form of treatment for prostate cancer.

Dr Richard Bryant, a consultant urologist and surgeon who treats patients from across Oxfordshire, will use the cash injection to investigate combining a new form of treatment alongside conventional radiotherapy for men with advanced or aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

If his research proves to be both safe and effective for patients, Dr Bryant believes it could be “game-changing” for men diagnosed with the disease in the future.

Dr Bryant, a consultant urological surgeon at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, was awarded a Clinician Scientist Fellowship, which supports cancer doctors carrying out research. He will receive £847,242 over five years to carry out his research in the hope of transforming treatments for future prostate cancer patients.

His project will look at the use of vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP) – a novel form of minimally invasive surgery that uses light treatment to target the destruction of a specific area of tissue such as a tumour while limiting any potential damage to healthy tissue – in combination with radiotherapy. The aim is to establish if the combined VTP and radiotherapy treatment is more effective that each treatment given alone.

Prostate cancer is the commonest cancer in men in the United Kingdom and around 500 men are diagnosed in Oxfordshire every year.

Many patients currently receive a course of radiotherapy, which is delivered over approximately six weeks. Many of these patients will be cured by radiotherapy, but in some patients the cancer can return, and in addition to this the radiotherapy itself can have significant side effects.

The new form of light treatment, or VTP, damages the blood vessels and ‘starves tumours’ thereby destroying them. It has recently been tested in clinical trials for patients with very low-risk and low-volume early-stage prostate cancer and has been demonstrated to be safe and effective in those individuals, but it has not yet been used in combination with another treatment such as radiotherapy, nor has it used to treat more aggressive or advanced prostate cancer.

Dr Bryant said: “Radiotherapy can cure many cases of prostate cancer, but it can cause difficult side effects and it may not be able to successfully treat some patients – possibly because the cancer has already spread or because some patients have a particularly aggressive form of the disease.

“We know that radiotherapy can still be improved and this is where I hope that this project takes us. We want to see if we can combine radiotherapy with another novel treatment. If we can show that this is safe and achievable then it could lead to a reduction in the necessary radiotherapy dose currently given to men with prostate cancer, thereby reducing the side effects of treatment.”

He added: “It is highly exciting research and I feel that this could be a potential game-changer for radiotherapy treatment for men with prostate cancer. My hope is that it could lead to a step-change in the delivery of modern radiotherapy with the addition of a minimally invasive form of targeted surgery, and my aim would be to have early-phase clinical trials in patients within five years.”

Dr Karen Noble, head of research training and fellowships at Cancer Research UK, said: “These awards allow us to support talented clinicians who will become the next generation of leaders in cancer research. They help encourage clinicians to continue to carry out vital research in conjunction with their clinical work treating patients

“This exciting piece of work which the Clinical Careers Committee has chosen to fund will discover if a new approach to the treatment of prostate cancer works well – and most importantly is safe – in patients.”

Anti-malaria drug could make tumours easier to treat

An anti-malaria drug could help radiotherapy destroy tumours according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published in Nature Communications.

The study, carried out at the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology in Oxford, looked at the effect of the drug, called atovaquone, on tumours with low oxygen levels in mice to see if it could be repurposed to treat cancer.

Radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA in cells. A good supply of oxygen reduces the ability of cancer cells to repair broken DNA. So when a tumour has low levels of oxygen, it can repair itself more easily after radiotherapy.

This means that tumours with low oxygen levels are more difficult to treat successfully with radiotherapy. They are also more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

This research showed for the first time that an anti-malaria drug slows down the rate at which cancer cells use oxygen by targeting the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell that make energy, a process that uses oxygen.

By slowing down the use of oxygen, this drug reverses the low-oxygen levels in nearly all of the tumours. The fully-oxygenated tumours are more easily destroyed by radiotherapy.

The drug was shown to be effective in a wide range of cancers, including lung, bowel, brain, and head and neck cancer. This older medicine is no longer patented and is readily and cheaply available from generic medicines manufacturers.

Professor Gillies McKenna, Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Director and joint lead author alongside Dr Geoff Higgins, said: “This is an exciting result. We have now started a clinical trial in Oxford to see if we can show the same results in cancer patients. We hope that this existing low cost drug will mean that resistant tumours can be re-sensitised to radiotherapy. And we’re using a drug that we already know is safe.”

Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, said: “The types of cancer that tend to have oxygen deprived regions are often more difficult to treat – such as lung, bowel, brain and head and neck cancer. Looking at the cancer-fighting properties of existing medicines is a very important area of research where medical charities can make a big impact and is a priority for Cancer Research UK. Clinical trials will tell us whether this drug could help improve treatment options for patients with these types of tumour.”

Ricky Sharma appointed as Professor of Radiation Oncology at UCL

Ricky Sharma, Group Leader at the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and the Department of Oncology, has been appointed to the position of Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology at University College London. He will start in his new post in July.

During his time at the University of Oxford, Ricky has built up a translational group of scientists and clinicians studying DNA damage and repair, drug-radiotherapy interactions and novel forms of imaging for radiotherapy planning. Ricky played an important role in the clinical imaging components of the CRUK/EPSRC Cancer Imaging Centre at Oxford, and with his group has published papers in journals as diverse as Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, The Journal of Clinical Oncology and The Lancet Oncology. They have secured extensive funding from a variety of charities, funding bodies and commercial partners, including Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Bowel Disease Research Foundation. Of particular note, Ricky chaired the Liver Multidisciplinary Team at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and built up a patient referral base from the whole of the UK for liver-directed therapies. He currently leads two international, multi-centre randomised controlled clinical trials, as well as several early-phase clinical trials of new radiotherapy treatment approaches and novel forms of imaging. He also developed and chaired the Teaching Committee to increase the amount of cancer teaching offered to medical students in Oxford.

When asked about this next career step, Ricky said: “I will be very sad to leave Oxford. It has been a wonderful environment to develop an academic career and to make close friends. I strongly recommend it to anyone thinking of joining the university.”

“In radiotherapy we are now moving to extremely targeted treatments. Protons, stereotactic radiotherapy and molecular radiotherapy all offer exciting new opportunities. What underpins this precision is our ability to image the cancer and to understand the biology of the cancer target.”

“My aim in my new post is to link up UCL’s expertise in cancer biology with UCLH’s precision radiotherapy, so we can develop new treatments with better cure rates and fewer side-effects.”

The UK government has committed £250 million to develop high energy proton beam therapy services at UCLH and Manchester, with the first UCLH patient due to be treated in 2019.

Success of largescale bid for OCRC

HEFCE put out a major call in July 2012 for the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UK RPIF). This funding supports long-term university capital projects. We are delighted to share the news of the success of the Oxford bid for an Oxford Targeted Cancer Research Centre

The project will see the establishment of a new world-leading £138m centre for targeted cancer research to develop, test and implement personalised diagnosis, imaging and therapy. The project will be a partnership including the University of Oxford, the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Cancer Research UK, Synergy Health, Roche Diagnostics and GE Healthcare.

The new centre will be led jointly by Professors Gillies McKenna and Adrian Harris from the University Department of Oncology, and Professor Freddie Hamdy from the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences. This will be a fully comprehensive cancer centre for research involving patients with early-stage cancer.

Potential new cancer drugs have traditionally been first tried out in patients with end-stage disease and results are often disappointing. Even when responses are seen, they are often quite brief. The new centre will change this paradigm by integrating cutting edge molecular diagnostics with an examination of how new drug candidates might be combined with the latest surgery or radiotherapy techniques, in early high risk cancers. The centre will also develop new ways of imaging cancer to select and monitor treatment, to be able to determine very quickly whether the right treatment has been selected.

It is hoped this new approach could see a change in how new treatments are developed for cancer, by combining them with the best available curative treatments.

The project is at a very early stage and there is now much work to be done to bring it to fruition, but we look forward to seeing the plans for the centre develop, and wish the partners every success with the project.

Official Launch of Oxford Cancer Research Centre

Oxford Cancer Research Centre is officially launched

The OCRC was officially launched today, with a celebratory reception taking place on the evening of 15th March. There will be speeches from Professor Peter Johnson (Chief Clinician Cancer Research UK); Professor Gillies McKenna (Head of University of Oxford Department of Oncology); Professor Sir John Bell (University of Oxford Regius Professor of Medicine) and Sir Jonathan Michael (Chief Executive Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust).

The official press relsease for this story is available below:

A NEW centre launched today (Tuesday) will cement Oxford’s place at the forefront of  cancer research, and form one of the final links in a unique chain of Cancer Research UK Centres across the country.

These new cancer centres will pull together world class laboratory research with medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.
The Oxford Cancer Research Centre is a partnership between Cancer Research UK, the University of Oxford and the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust.

It will help set the pace for national and international progress in the understanding and treatment of a variety of cancers, including breast, skin, urological and gastrointestinal.
Collaboration will be the key to the success of the centre, as it will bring together and build on Oxford’s existing world-class research in many areas of cancer medicine, from identifying the causes of cancer to improving diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The centre will carry out research on the molecular basis of cancer, as well as work on understanding the genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of cancer.
Other research strengths will include new methods for improving cancer diagnosis, and finding new ‘biomarkers’ to predict the effect drugs have on patients.

The latest developments in radiotherapy and surgery will be brought together with clinical trials of new drugs, providing the best evidence to guide the treatment of cancer.
Professor Gillies McKenna, director of the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology, and head of the Department of Oncology said: “With 2011 designated as the Year of Radiotherapy, there is increased recognition that greater access to this treatment is vital to improving cancer survival.

“Cancer Research UK has long been committed to improving radiotherapy through research, by supporting the Gray Institute in Oxford. The Institute has the world’s largest group of clinicians and scientists working in radiation oncology, and the Oxford Cancer Research Centre will help provide the vital infrastructure to help translate these discoveries into benefits for patients.”

Michael Kinane, 70, from Bicester, was diagnosed in September 2010 with bowel cancer which had spread to the liver.
He began his treatment with radiotherapy for the bowel tumour to relieve symptoms. He then received another form of radiotherapy in combination with chemotherapy to treat the spread of cancer to his liver.

He is being treated at the Oxford Cancer Research Centre, in one of the trials developed by the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology at the University of Oxford and supported by the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK.

The trial – known as FOXFIRE – is testing a new treatment called radio-embolisation, a form of internal radiotherapy that uses the tumour’s blood supply to target multiple sites of disease within the liver.

Radiotherapy is already a well-established treatment in bowel cancer. This new way of administering high-dose radiation therapy directly into the blood supply of the cancer could be even more effective at treating bowel cancer which has spread to the liver, when combined with chemotherapy.

“Being part of the trial has been amazingly simple and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity of being given another treatment,” said Michael. “I hope that taking part in this trial will help more people like me in the future. I’ve been lucky to benefit from the excellent research which already takes place in Oxford and it’s good to know that this will become even better with the new Centre.”

Sir Jonathan Michael, chief executive of the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This is an exciting development for our cancer patients. Patients will benefit from the close working relationship between the Trust and the University. We want to ensure that research is translated into treatment for patients in order to prolong and improve their quality of life.”

The Oxford Cancer Research Centre is the 16th Cancer Research UK-funded centre and will be funded by Cancer Research UK to the tune of £2.8 million in the first year.

Professor Alastair Buchan, head of the medical science division at the University of Oxford, said: “The University of Oxford is delighted to join the Cancer Research UK Centre’s Initiative. The Centre will help bring together the extensive community of outstanding cancer researchers in Oxford, acting as a nucleus for researchers, doctors and patients to engage with each other. It will ensure optimal translation of fundamental research into patient benefit, and will train the next generation of world-leaders in cancer detection, treatment and prevention.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Funding these centres of excellence is one of the charity’s priorities and will enable us to work towards the goals we have set to improve the treatment and survival of cancer patients across all types of cancer.

“We continue to welcome the generous donations we receive from the public to ensure we can continue to build on what we have started today.”