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Global Award for Prostate Cancer Blood Test Developer



Wednesday 30 November 2011



A scientist from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Timothy Yap, has received an award for ongoing work developing a blood test to predict how prostate cancer patients will respond to treatment.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Young Investigator awards are designed to encourage the most innovative minds in cancer research to focus their careers on prostate cancer. Each Young Investigator receives $225,000 over three years to help support their research focussed on prostate cancer treatment and patients.

In collaboration with his mentor Professor Johann de Bono, Dr Yap is studying Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs), cancer cells that have broken away from an existing tumour and entered the blood stream.

The team’s previous work has suggested that doctors could monitor how well patients are responding to new drugs by measuring the levels and molecular characteristics of CTCs in their blood. Currently, to assess whether a drug is working doctors must rely on techniques such as imaging or biopsy, which are slow to show results and may lead to other complications, or PSA testing, which has questionable accuracy.

“This blood test could be used to confirm that the drug is benefiting a particular patient; and, if not, they can be moved quickly to an alternative therapy,” Dr Yap says. “This would also mean they suffer fewer side-effects from unnecessary treatments and expensive new drugs are not given to patients they cannot help. I am grateful and honoured to have received this prestigious award, which will enable us to assess this test in a large-scale clinical trial.”

A test to help guide treatment decisions is becoming even more critical as a number of new drugs are poised to become more widely available to patients. Until recently, few drugs have been available for men with advanced prostate cancer, but now six drugs have been shown in clinical trials to extend life – including four that the ICR and The Royal Marsden helped develop. 

Dr Yap and colleagues plan to conduct a large-scale clinical trial to assess the usefulness of CTCs in guiding how individual patients are managed, and to determine if CTCs can be used to predict patient survival.

At the moment, prostate cancer is still treated as though it is one disease, even though there is significant variation in the way patients’ diseases progress. Dr Yap also plans to molecularly characterise and sequence genes of individual CTCs and circulating plasma nucleic acids, to determine whether certain patients’ subtypes of prostate cancer are associated with drug sensitivity and resistance. The team believes this information can be used to personalise treatments more precisely to each patient.

As well as benefiting individual patients, the blood test also has the potential to speed up the process of developing new prostate cancer drugs. Under the current clinical trial system, new drugs must show that they keep men alive for longer than the existing drugs, which means many years of follow-up are required to achieve conclusive results. The team hope that CTC measurements can be used as a prognostic indicator.

Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) has awarded 24 Young Investigators grants in 2011.

“Young Investigators provide the most innovative and ground-breaking ideas in prostate cancer research,” says PCF chief science officer Dr Howard Soule. “With their fresh ideas, the field of prostate cancer research will be heavily impacted and improved, and lives will be saved.”



Media Contact: ICR Science Communications Manager Jane Bunce on 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900


Notes to editor:

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years.

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The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 44,000 patients every year.  It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies. The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London boroughs of Sutton and Merton and in June 2010, along with the ICR, the Trust launched a new academic partnership with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex. 

Since 2004, the hospital’s charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, has helped raise over £50 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units. Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

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