Project No. 01

Immunotherapy for Prostate Cancer

Training the body’s immune system to fight cancer, for a future when advanced prostate cancer treatment could mean a single injection, with tiny side effects

S c r o l l   R i g h t

The Project

The immunotherapy project is working to harness the immune system's innate ability to fight cancer.

How?

PCRC scientists are using a naturally occurring protein to help the immune system attack cancerous cells.

IL-15

IL-15 is a 'chemical tail' - an extra molecule - which anchors the protein at the precise location of the cancer.

What could this achieve?

This treatment would require one injection, with permanent effects. This could revolutionise the treatment of prostate cancer.

The future

What's next?

The project was awarded additional funding from PCRC in 2018 and will have a new researcher joining the team soon.

The Project

The immunotherapy project is working to harness the immune system's innate ability to fight cancer.

How?

PCRC scientists are using a naturally occurring protein to help the immune system attack cancerous cells.

IL-15

IL-15 is a 'chemical tail' - an extra molecule - which anchors the protein at the precise location of the cancer.

What could this achieve?

This treatment would require one injection, with permanent effects. This could revolutionise the treatment of prostate cancer.

The future

What's next?

The project was awarded additional funding from PCRC in 2018 and will have a new researcher joining the team soon.

Project Start

January 2015

Research Facility

MRC Centre for Transplantation, Guy's Hospital London

Budget

£300,000/year

End

December 2019

What is immunotherapy?

The immune system protects us by recognising and attacking things which might make us ill, such as viruses, bacteria, or unhealthy cells.

One of the reasons cancer is so hard to treat is that cancer cells are very similar to our normal, healthy cells. This makes it difficult for our immune systems to recognise them as an enemy, and difficult to design drugs which can tell the difference between cancer and healthy cells.

Immunotherapy is one of the most exciting scientific advances in recent years. The idea is to retrain the immune system to identify and attack cancerous cells.

 

Immunotherapy: Immune cells attacking cancer cells. Image by Dr Christine Galustian

 

 

Ffion Harris, PhD Student at Dr Christine Galustian's PCRC-funded lab

Christine’s Research Project

Although immunotherapy treatment is available, it hasn’t been very effective so far. The only immunotherapy treatment for prostate cancer we have at the minute involves taking the patient’s blood, reprogramming his white blood cells to attack cancer cells and transplanting these cells back into his bloodstream. This treatment does not reduce symptoms or shrink tumours. It’s also a long and expensive procedure, not provided by the NHS.

PCRC scientists, led by Dr Christine Galustian at King’s College London, are working with a naturally-occurring protein called IL-15. IL-15 causes the immune system to identify and attack cancerous cells. However, getting this protein to the site of the cancer is difficult. When it is injected into the bloodstream it doesn’t effectively fight cancer, and has toxic side effects.

Dr Galustian has devised an innovative new way to harness IL-15’s immunotherapeutic properties. She uses ‘chemical tails’ – an extra molecule made of peptides and fatty acids – which can be attached to the protein. This tail anchors the IL-15 at the cancer site, meaning it can help the immune system destroy the prostate cancer without harming the rest of the body.

Prostate Cancer Research Centre funded researcher Dr Christine Galustian from King's College London talks about her work developing immunotherapies to treat prostate cancer.

WHAT WILL THIS MEAN FOR PROSTATE CANCER PATIENTS?

Current treatments for advanced prostate cancer include hormone therapy and chemotherapy. These involve going to a hospital many times for repeat treatments, and unpleasant side effects. Dr Galustian’s treatment should have minimal side effects, and will require just a single injection. Also, her chemically-tailed IL-15 is easy to manufacture compared to other kinds of cancer treating drugs. Whilst vastly improving men’s lives and chances of survival, these immunotherapeutic drugs could also save the NHS considerable time and money.

The Future

Dr Galustian’s research has already seen startling results – it has reduced tumour growth in model organisms by 60% using this method. She anticipates the new treatment will be even more effective in humans. This is because the IL-15 that she has used in the models will work even better in humans as it is a human protein. With continued support, these exciting clinical trials could take place as early as next year.

Thanks to additional PCRC funding, a new chemistry technician will shortly be joining the project. The new team member will experiment with different agents which, when used together with IL-15 in certain patients, will maximise its clinical potential.

If successful, the outcome will be a new immunotherapeutic treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer, but the therapy could have wider implications for fighting all sorts of advanced cancers, and for moving patients away from invasive and difficult treatments like chemotherapy.

Collaborations and Partnerships

PCRC has commissioned several companies, including Genescript to produce purified IL-15.

Recent Scientific Articles

Immune checkpoint blockade – a treatment for urological cancers?
Elhage, O., Galustian, C. & Dasgupta, P. Oct 2016 BJU INTERNATIONAL. 118, 4, p. 498-500

Cathepsin-L and Transglutaminase Dependent Processing of ps20: A novel Mechanism for ps20 Regulation via ECM Cross-Linking
Hickman, O. J., Dasgupta, P., Galustian, C., Smith, R. A. & Vyakarnam, A. Sep 2016 Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports 7, p. 328–337

Expression of two WFDC1/ps20 isoforms in prostate stromal cells induces paracrine apoptosis through regulation of PTGS2/COX-2
Hickman, O. J., Smith, R., Dasgupta, P., Rao, S. N., Nayak, S., Sreenivasan, S., Vyakarnam, A. & Galustian, C. 26 Apr 2016 British Journal of Cancer p. 1-8

Help us Fund a Future for Men and their Families

As a small charity, we can focus the majority of our funds on research.

Support Us

Support the immunotherapy for prostate cancer project

Any donation you can make will help us fund this cutting-edge, life-saving research.

75% of patients with advanced prostate cancer die from the disease within five years. This is because current treatments for advanced prostate cancer are inadequate. Orchiectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatment are often ineffective long term. Moreover, they have debilitating side effects such as impotence and incontinence.

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