Published: 19 February 2016

Pioneering cancer research team celebrates decade of success

A decade of ground-breaking research into cancer, which has seen major breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of the disease, is being celebrated by the University of Surrey.

In 2006 the University appointed a new Chair in oncology, in partnership with St Luke’s Cancer Care (at the Royal Surrey County Hospital) and jointly funded by the Prostate Project Charity.

During its ten years, the research group, led by Professor Hardev Pandha, has developed research programmes in targeted cancer therapy, cancer biomarkers and novel therapies for patients with prostate cancer and other advanced cancers

The group shared its successes and ambitions at a special event to highlight the team’s research, which, in addition to the Prostate Project Charity, is supported by a number of other national and local charities, including Topic of Cancer, The Hospital Saturday Fund and Chapman Charitable Trust.

Professor Pandha said: “The success of the group has been directly as a result of sustained partnership between the University, local charities, and national and international collaborators. Without the support of patients and their families much of the work would not have been possible. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the countless individuals who have altruistically supported us.”

One of the main projects has been the evaluation of engrailed 2 (EN2) as a urine marker for prostate and bladder cancers. EN2 is a gene that is important in development of the human embryo.  Its production is normally switched off at birth but the team found it was switched on again in prostate and bladder cancers

The other unique property of EN2 is that it is made by cancer cells and secreted into the urine of prostate and bladder cancer patients which can be detected using a simple test. To date more than 2,000 patients have been involved in studies, and EN2 is now reaching its final stage as a “registration” study called PROCURE, in conjunction with a biotechnology company and the help of the University’s research enterprise team. The study will include 500 men and the team will be looking at not only whether EN2 can detect prostate cancer but also whether it detects disease that needs to be treated immediately versus prostate cancer that can be simply monitored.

The team has also advanced a number of studies which are centred around genes similar to EN2 called HOX genes that control development of the embryo and which, similar to EN2, are switched on again in adults and drive cancer cell progression. Researchers have developed a unique agent called HXR9 designed specifically to target cells which are producing too many HOX gene products. The treatment with HXR9 results in cancer cell death within two hours and HXR9 is now been developed as a treatment for prostate cancer and injected directly into the tumour.

The team’s other main focus has been immunotherapy for cancer, for which Surrey is one of the key centres in the UK. This has comprised both work in the laboratory and early phase clinical trials in cancer vaccines, trying to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer by infecting cancers with live viruses. This work has now created an excellent platform for the next five to ten years and the group will be looking at combination treatments with viral treatments in cancer therapies as well as new cancer-seeking viruses and novel antibodies.

Dr Colin Stokes, MBE, Chair of the Prostate Project, said: We are so proud of our research team’s achievements  Their ground-breaking work is giving men a much better chance of beating prostate cancer. That is the premise on which our charity was founded and remains our principal goal today. In the past 18 years we have raised £8.4 million and made a significant contribution towards the Royal Surrey County Hospital becoming a ‘Centre of Excellence’ in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.”

“The jewel in the crown of our achievements will be the day the tape is cut on a new world-class Urology Centre at the Royal Surrey. We have raised £1.5 million towards the build and fit-out and are hopeful that the Centre will be complete in the early part of 2017.”

For more information about cancer research at the University, please visit the group’s website page.

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