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Targeted treatment trials and new prostate cancer drugs

Professor Johann de Bono – Head of the Drug Development Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden – has been involved in developing more than 100 potential new drugs over the past decade, several of which are now available to patients.

Can You Cure My Cancer? highlights Professor de Bono’s work in two different, but related areas. He is leading trials of new potential targeted treatments for a range of cancer types, based on the specific genetic mutations present in patients’ tumours. He has also played a leading role in developing several pioneering new treatments for patients suffering from advanced prostate cancer.

His work in developing targeted treatments – which also involves Dr Udai Banerji, who is also featured in the programme – is illustrated by the story of Tami, who has been a participant on a number of trials run by Professor de Bono at The Royal Marsden.

The BBC followed Tami as she took part in a trial of a drug from a family called MEK inhibitors. These drugs work by shutting down an important chemical pathway found in some types of cancer. When this treatment stopped working, Tami started treatment with a drug called olaparib, on a different trial. That drug, from a family of drugs called PARP inhibitors, works by exploiting a weakness in cancer cells’ DNA repair machinery. Olaparib’s development was underpinned by research carried out by scientists at the ICR.

Tami was selected for both trials based on in-depth genomic analyses of her cancer, which helped select the best course of treatment.

Like Tami, John – who is also featured in Can You Cure My Cancer? – has participated in a number of clinical trials. His treatment with the hormone therapy drug, enzalutamide, for advanced prostate cancer has been effective since he joined the trial, and he has remained on treatment ever since.

Enzalutamide is one of a number of new hormone therapy drugs, which slow prostate tumour growth by blocking prostate cancer’s hormone receptor. Along with enzalutamide, Professor de Bono has been a key figure in developing and conducting trials of abiraterone – another hormone therapy for prostate cancer which was discovered at the ICR and developed in collaboration with The Royal Marsden, and is now a standard treatment for advanced prostate cancer available on the NHS.