Monash BDI researchers chosen for dynamic prostate cancer project

Associate Professor Renea Taylor and Professor Gail Risbridger.
Associate Professor Renea Taylor and Professor Gail Risbridger.

Two Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) scientists have joined the newly formed Prostate Cancer Research Alliance (PCRA).

Comprising three national research teams, the PCRA will focus on conducting life-saving prostate cancer research to deliver new medications and treatments that extend or improve the quality of life of thousands of patients.

Professor Gail Risbridger and Associate Professor Renea Taylor are participating in the three-year project, due to start in mid-2019.

Modelled on the UK’s Centres of Excellence for prostate cancer research, the PCRA was established by the Movember Foundation and Australian Government funds. Each team in the new alliance received more than $4 million in funding from the Australian Government and men’s health body Movember Foundation including leveraged funding from the Victorian State Government and Monash University.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia, causing the deaths of around 3,500 men in 2018.

The teams are headed by researchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney; and the University of Melbourne.

Professor Risbridger and Associate Professor Taylor will work with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre team. The centre’s Associate Professor Arun Azad and Professor Michael Hofman will run two clinical trials into a new breakthrough treatment for men with prostate cancer called Lu-PSMA.

However Lu-PSMA, a radioactive molecule purpose-made to kill prostate cancer cells, doesn’t work in 30 per cent of cases; the Monash BDI team is conducting preclinical trials into an alternative treatment for these men.

“These men don’t have the antigen required to benefit from this latest breakthrough,” Professor Risbridger said.

“We were surprised to discover that men who didn’t have the antigen had another antigen that could be used for an immunotherapy,” she said.

The researchers will conduct preclinical ‘proof of concept’ trials into this antigen.

“If we can show effectiveness of immunotherapy in the laboratory the results will lead directly into clinical trials,” Professor Risbridger said.

“It’s giving hope to patients who don’t qualify for the Lu-PSMA clinical trials. The types of patients we want to be treating are the ones who really need it,” Associate Professor Taylor said.

“It demonstrates how a biomedical research group can be involved in the design and development of world-leading clinical trials,” Professor Risbridger said.

Two major donors from Monash University – Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, and the office of the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice-President – as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, leveraged $375,000 for the project.

The research program is managed by the Movember Foundation and co-governed by the foundation and Cancer Australia.

“A panel of independent experts have selected the most promising research proposals with the greatest potential to improve the way that prostate cancer is managed and treated. The newly appointed PCRA teams will take potentially life-saving tests and treatments and fast-track them from the lab to the clinic – making them available to more men, more quickly,” Owen Sharp, Movember Foundation CEO, said.

It is hoped the research findings could be incorporated into clinical practice as early as 2023.

Read the funding announcement on the Movember Foundation website.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.