Announcing our new research projects!

Although COVID-19 has affected our charity, we knew that missing the opportunity to fund more outstanding research could set a better future back by years. We weren’t willing to take that risk and in April 2020, we invited researchers to submit proposals.

We are now delighted to introduce the scientists who were awarded funding and what their research will mean for those living with prostate cancer!

Targeting Wnt signalling to treat prostate cancer

Dr Toby Phesse and Dr Helen Pearson

Dates: September 2021 – September 2024

Location: Cardiff University

Amount: £491,731

The Scientists Said...

“We are delighted that PCR have funded this project which will allow us to determine if drugs targeting Wnt signalling, which is active in advanced/metastatic prostate cancer, can block the spread of prostate cancer cells around the body. Metastasis is a complex process where cancer cells spread to distant sites and form new tumours, however we don’t have a good understanding of the biology underpinning this process. To improve our understanding of prostate cancer metastasis, we will also investigate how Wnt signalling is being transmitted in prostate cancer cells, and how it impacts the ability of prostate cancer cells to grow in the bone – a frequent site for prostate cancer metastasis.”

The Wnt pathway is a set of signals that play a key role in prostate cancer. Wnt signals are released by one cell and taken up by surrounding cells. This causes them to grow and move uncontrollably resulting in cancer growth and spread.



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Toby and Helen hope to learn how Wnt controls cancer spread and whether blocking the pathway prevents this.

They are particularly interested in the factors that control spread to bone because why and how prostate cancer spreads to bone are big unanswered questions.

There is already a drug that blocks the Wnt pathway being tested in patients with other cancers. They will investigate whether this drug could also be used to treat advanced prostate cancer.

Clipping prostate cancer’s wings

Dr Jennifer Munkley

Dates: August 2021 – August 2023

Location: Newcastle University

Amount: £273,534

The Scientist Said...

“We know that these glycan sugars are found at very high levels in tumours and blood from men whose prostate cancer has spread to the bone, and we’ve shown that these sugars increase not only tumour growth but also how likely the cancer is to spread to other parts of the body, in particular, to the bone. This represents an important opportunity because drugs targeting these sugars have already been successfully developed in other diseases and in this project we intend to repurpose those drugs to also benefit men with advanced prostate cancer.

The PCR charity really has a focus on advanced prostate cancer and that’s where the problem is, and that aligned with what we wanted to do with this project. Our long-term goal for this project is that we can use the data that we generate to translate into clinical trials to benefit men with advanced prostate cancer.”

Prostate cancer often spreads to bone. This can be very painful and there is currently no cure. Why and how prostate cancer spreads to bone are big unanswered questions.

Cancer makes changes to the sugars which surround all our cells. Jennifer’s team have identified 3 types of sugars found at high levels in tumours and blood from men with spread to bone.

These sugars make prostate cancers grow very fast and more likely to spread to bone. They will explore how these special sugars help prostate cancer cells to grow in bone



Drugs that target these sugars have already been developed for other diseases. The team will also try to use these drugs to stop prostate cancer from spreading to bone.

This research is supported by a co-sponsored award from Prostate Cancer Research and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research.

Targeting MCL-1: A new therapy for prostate cancer?

Dr Kirsteen Campbell

Dates: October 2021 – October 2024

Location: Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Glasgow

Amount: £229,973

The Scientist Said...

“We will bring a novel approach to the investigation of advanced prostate cancer, where we believe that drugs already in clinical trials for other types of cancer could be exploited to eliminate prostate cancer cells from the body. We aim to expedite the development of these new therapeutics in combination with current prostate cancer treatments and are delighted to use this PCR award to help make a difference to the lives of men with prostate cancer.”

Men with advanced prostate cancer have been found to have high levels of the protein MCL-1. High levels of MCL-1 have also been linked to hormone therapy resistance.



We currently understand very little about MCL-1’s role in prostate cancer. Kirsteen and her team will explore MCL-1’s role by growing prostate cancer cells in the lab.

Drugs targeting MCL-1 have already been developed to treat blood cancers. Kirsteen hopes that these drugs could be repurposed to treat prostate cancer.

The drugs could also be combined with other treatments to help them work more effectively.

Predicting which prostate cancers will return

Dr Anna Wilkins and Dr Erik Sahai

Dates: June 2021 – December 2022

Location: Francis Crick Institute, London

Amount: £100,000

The Scientists Said...

“We’ve known for many years that specific patterns of non-cancerous cells, and the surrounding scaffolding that supports tumours, can drive more aggressive prostate cancer behaviour. However, we haven’t had the computational tools to find these “bad biology” tumour patterns. Recent advances in artificial intelligence mean there is now the potential to identify them. We’re very excited that our PCR award means we can apply powerful computational approaches to digital images of tumours, with the goal of enabling better treatment decisions for individual patients – maximising cure rates and minimising side effects.” 

We can get rid of many prostate cancers, but sometimes cancer returns. Unfortunately, doctors cannot predict which cancers will return.

If we could predict this, we could change the treatment of those cancers to reduce the chance of them returning. For those unlikely to return, we could avoid treatment that might lead to side effects.



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Certain features around prostate cancer cells mean the cancer is more likely to return. Currently, finding these features requires highly trained staff and can be time-consuming.

Anna and Erik have developed computer software to do this automatically and quickly. The software can also ‘learn’ and become better with more use.

Investigating the link between fat and prostate cancer

Dr Claire Fletcher and Professor Charlotte Bevan

Dates: July 2021 – July 2024

Location: Imperial College London

Amount: £491,917

The Scientists Said...

“We are delighted to receive this research grant from PCR and have their support for our work. Our PCR-funded research will investigate how prostate tumours communicate with the fat that surrounds the prostate, and how this may fuels more aggressive types of prostate cancer often seen in overweight men. We hope that, by identifying the molecules responsible for obesity-driven prostate cancer, we can target these to develop new treatments for aggressive disease in general.”

Increased fat surrounding the prostate is linked to more aggressive disease but we currently understand remarkably little about how fat promotes prostate cancer.

Molecules released by the fat around the prostate are different in obese men and ‘Mini-cells’ released by fat are also known to change the behaviour of prostate cells.

These ‘mini-cells’ contain tiny pieces of genetic information which may tell prostate cells to grow. Claire and Charlotte will explore how ‘mini-cells’ change prostate cancer cell growth and spread.



They aim to identify new drug targets and markers for aggressive disease and ultimately, they hope to repurpose existing drugs to treat prostate cancer.

In addition to the five new awards announced today, we will shortly be announcing details of our next funding opportunity, in which we will invite scientists to submit proposals to tackle the racial disparity in prostate cancer. 1 in 4 black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK, compared with 1 in 8 white men, and 1 in 13 men of other ethnicities.

This follows on from our recent partnership with healthcare provider GenesisCare and Olympian Linford Christie OBE to raise awareness of prostate cancer risk in men of black ethnicity.


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