Bold move to tackle prostate cancer

Professor Gail Risbridger

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s (BDI) Professor Gail Risbridger has received a United States Department of Defense grant to participate in an ambitious project that aims to eradicate incurable prostate cancer.

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s (BDI) Professor Gail Risbridger has received a United States Department of Defense grant to participate in an ambitious project that aims to eradicate incurable prostate cancer.

Professor Risbridger is a partnering Principal Investigator (PI) in a three-year project led by PI Professor Peter Nelson from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, US. The project also includes PI Professor John Isaacs from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US.

The collaborators, all internationally recognised experts in prostate cancer, will tackle the problem by identifying what combination of drugs can eradicate prostatic tumours. In current clinical practice, drugs are given sequentially rather than in combination and this traditional approach often leads to drug resistance.

Using patient tumour specimens grown in mice, the three research programs will test how individual tumours respond to a combination of therapies. The programs each hold a diverse collection of tumours, representative of the many types pf tumours found in human disease.

“When patients are treated sequentially, the first line is hormone castration therapy, and when that doesn’t work, salvage therapies including chemotherapy are used plus some of the newer agents. Ultimately, they all fail because the tumour becomes therapy resistant,” Professor Risbridger said.

The researchers will test the bold hypothesis that a rational combination of drugs will avoid resistance and result in complete responses that exceed the traditional strategy of giving one drug at a time.

Each research program will test roughly 50 drug combinations over the three years of work. Promising combinations will be analysed further and sent to the other research sites. Those combinations that look effective will inform and guide new clinical trials.

The researchers also hope to identify biomarkers to predict tumour response to maximise the effectiveness of treatments.

“It’s a daring program,” Professor Risbridger said.

“I find it very exciting – it’s a perfectly logical hypothesis. It may be that you don’t do everything for everyone but we’re going to give it a good shot. As Australia’s involvement is integral to this pre-clinical project, we anticipate that new clinical trials will include Australian research programs and Australian patients,” she said.

Professor Risbridger said the collaboration has brought a number of strengths to the project.

“The advantage is that the three research programs have unique resources and expertise. We’re all doing the type of discovery that translates into clinical trials, our teams are multidisciplinary and we will share our data across the world. Really, it’s about being experts and pooling our resources for the patients’ benefit,” she said.

Professor Risbridger, who heads an internationally recognised team of scientists and clinicians working within the Monash BDI’s Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, is one of Australia’s leading prostate cancer researchers.

The project, titled ‘Eradicating Metastatic Prostate Cancer through the Systematic Identification of Synergistic Drug Combinations’, will begin in September 2018 and is worth more than USD $3 million.


The US Department of Defense, which oversees the welfare of war veterans, supports a range of programs aimed at improving the veterans’ health and wellbeing. This award is made as part of the Prostate Cancer Research Program.