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In a world first, Ulster University scientists at the forefront of the battle against prostate cancer have discovered a new combined treatment that could effectively prevent tumour growth, spread and patient relapse.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in Northern Ireland. Around 1,000 men in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and the five-year survival rate is just under 90 per cent. However, for men diagnosed with advanced stage four cancer, the five year survival rate is only 22 per cent.

Ulster University cancer researchers have discovered that combining an existing hormone therapy, known as androgen deprivation, with a new drug called OCT1002 can improve treatment effectiveness. It works by targeting more resistant cancer cells and preventing malignancy and spread.

The three-year Ulster University study was supported by Prostate Cancer UK through a £213,000 grant from the Movember Foundation and the latest results have now been published by the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Ulster University’s Dr Declan McKenna explained: “The new research builds upon Ulster’s University’s discovery earlier this year, that low oxygen levels in prostate cancer tumours are responsible for triggering genetic changes. Those changes accelerate the growth of new cancer cells and can cause patients to relapse within two years of starting the traditional hormone therapy treatment.

“This new discovery is hugely significant. Hormone therapy is an effective treatment but its success with more resistant cancer cells is limited. By combining hormone therapy with this new drug we have for the first time discovered a way to destroy these resistant cells that may otherwise lead to relapse or the spread of cancer cells.

“Our next step is to consider a move to clinical trials so we can focus on testing this combined therapy and ultimately develop tailored treatments for individual prostate cancer patients globally.”

Prostate Cancer UK Deputy Director of Research Dr Matthew Hobbs said: “Hormone therapy is an effective treatment for men living with advanced prostate cancer - it can help to keep the disease at bay and many men continue to lead a good quality of life for many years. However, after time it stops working and men are left with just a handful of further treatment options. Although it’s still early days, this drug may offer a completely new way to treat prostate cancer, increasing the amount of time that hormone therapy works for and potentially giving men precious extra time with their loved ones.

“Prostate cancer kills over 11,000 men in the UK every year, however Prostate Cancer UK has set out to tame the disease in the next ten years. Discovering new drugs and treatments for advanced prostate cancer will be critical to achieving this ambition, which is why research like this is so important. We hope that this new drug will now be taken forward towards clinical trials as quickly as possible so that we can test whether it can make a real difference for the men who need it.”