Prostate cancer: Help us to discover new drugs to treat this disease

Last updated: 27/02/2015


What’s this project about?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK and sadly around 10,000 die from the disease each year. So it is crucial that we find new ways to tackle the disease.

Professor Simon Mackay is leading a large team of scientific experts who are working together to discover new drugs with fewer side effects for prostate cancer.

Meet Professor Mackay and his team in this video, and learn more about the work they're doing to help beat prostate cancer.

Read the video transcript here.

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Project closed – February 2015

We're very excited to announce that we've achieved the fundraising target for this project! Thank you so much for helping us to raise almost £200,000 for pioneering research into prostate cancer.

With the continued help of our supporters we can accelerate our progress against this devastating disease.

Fundraising and donations to this project have closed. If you’d like to continue to support our life-saving work in prostate cancer, please take a look at the project below.

Prostate cancer: support vital research into finding new treatments.

Project update - March 2011

Jude with compoundNotes from the lab: In our August update, we described how we'd made over 900 'chemical keys' to put through a series of lab tests. This month we thought we’d explain how we do this, with the help of one of our medicinal chemists, Dr Jude Huggan.

When asked about her work, Jude shared this:

Open QuoteI find this type of work very rewarding. In this project the medicinal chemist is the link between the doctors and the biologists. The doctors want better treatments for their patients, the biologists work out the biological mechanisms that underlie better treatments, and then the medicinal chemists make the compounds that could be new medicines. It's very exciting when a compound you've made passes all the biological tests. It drives you on to make more better and safer compounds, with more likelihood of one day becoming a medicine.Closing Quote

Read on to find out more about Jude's work on the project.

Read the rest of her message >

All our 'keys,' or potential drugs, are made by reacting two chemicals together to make a new chemical. However, in most cases this new chemical will be just one step on the way to getting the compound we really want, so we'll need to do many more reactions. On average 5 to 6 steps are required, taking anything from 1 to 4 weeks depending on the difficulty of the reactions.

Two compounds reacting togetherIn this photo, Jude is reacting two compounds together in the final step of a 5-step process. Once these two chemicals have reacted with each other and we think we have the compound we want, we need to purify it.


Column chromatographyTo do this we use a technique called column chromatography, using the column shown in the photo at right. This is like a big filter that lets us separate the compound we want from any by-products or un-reacted starting materials.


In the photo at top, Jude is holding compound SU 1050. It may look like a small amount for 3 weeks worth of effort, but it's enough to do some biological testing. If it is safe and if successful, we can make many more grams of it because Jude has worked out how to make it.

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Project update - November 2010

Photo of CarlyCarly has been a researcher on Professor Mackay's team for the past two years, working to develop new drugs to treat men with prostate cancer.

She's heading home to Melbourne, but wanted to share with you what it's been like working on the project that you're helping to support:

Open QuoteI moved to Glasgow from Melbourne about two years ago to work on this project, trying to develop new drugs to treat men with prostate cancer. Although a long way from home, I was excited at the prospect of working with such a multi-disciplinary team.

Read the rest of her message >

Over the last couple of years I have been working with prostate cancer cells in the lab. We are trying to find how these cells are different to normal cells and how we may best be able to target these differences. This would allow us to treat the cancer cells, whilst leaving normal cells relatively untouched.

Although my time on this project is coming to an end, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work. It is a unique experience to have chemists, biologists and medics working so closely together. We have also had such a great response from the community and the donations we have received are appreciated by all of us.

It is a humbling experience when you know that your research may have such a direct impact on peoples' lives. As I return to Melbourne I will look back fondly on my time here, and look forward to seeing the future developments made on this project.Closing Quote

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Professor Mackay featured in Science Update Blog

Professor Mackay's work has been showcased in Cancer Research UK's award-winning Science Update blog! Read about it here.

Project update - August 2010

We caught up with Dr Catherine Breslin, the project manager on Professor Mackay's team, to hear how the project is going. She sent along an update to let you know what your support is helping to do:

Open QuoteWe’ve completed our second year out of five, devoted to finding a new drug to improve survival for men with prostate cancer.

What we’re trying to do is rather like finding the right key to fit into a complex lock. We’ve now made over 900 ’chemical keys’ - any of which could be the drug we’re looking for.

Read the rest of the update >

Our next step is to find out how well they work and how safe they are. We are planning to put each through a series of lab tests, one by one. Although it’s initially best to test them in test-tubes, we will also need to see if they work in a more ’real life’ situation, for example in prostate cancer cells grown in the lab.

Once we’ve selected the most promising keys, we’ll start to tweak them to see if we can make them an even better fit - rather like filing a key to make it turn as smoothly as possible.

Looking ahead, we will then be able to start testing our most exciting chemicals in tumour samples donated by cancer patients – moving us one step nearer to our first human trials of a potential new drug for prostate cancer.Closing Quote

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What is the science behind the project?

Many prostate cancers are fuelled by the male hormone testosterone. Men often receive treatments that block the action of testosterone and stop cancer cells growing. But unfortunately, although for many men this can be effective, after several months or years, some prostate cancers can develop resistance to the treatment. Doctors call this hormone-refractory prostate cancer (HRPC).

HRPC is much more difficult to treat. As part of our new drug discovery initiative, Professor Mackay’s team are searching for new ways to tackle this form of cancer.

Read more about this project >

Traditional chemotherapy treatments work by killing rapidly dividing cells in the body. But this means that patients can suffer from unpleasant side effects, as healthy cells are also affected. So scientists are working hard to develop drugs that target and specifically kill cancer cells, while aiming to leave healthy cells unharmed. These so-called ‘smart drugs’, exploit subtle molecular differences in cancer cells that distinguish them from healthy cells. Scientists hope that they will provide doctors with effective new treatments that have fewer side effects.

Professor Mackay’s exciting new drug discovery programme aims to identify potential new smart drugs to treat men with HRPC. One aspect of this programme involves purifying chemicals from plants to use as a source for potential new drugs. The research team will further develop the most promising compounds for testing in future clinical trials.

Working together

In order to carry out this ambitious programme of research, Professor Mackay has pulled together a large team of doctors and scientists. These include molecular biologists, chemists, and doctors who specialise in treating men with prostate cancer. Bringing together these experts in one team combines the knowledge, skills and resources required to discover better treatments for men with hormone-refractory prostate cancer.

One of Cancer Research UK’s goals for 2020 is to develop better treatments with fewer side effects. Professor Mackay’s drug discovery programme could bring us closer to achieving this goal for men with prostate cancer.

For more information about prostate cancer you can visit our CancerHelp UK website prostate cancer pages.

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Some facts about prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. A quarter of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in men are prostate cancers. Want to know more? Read on for more prostate cancer facts.

• In 2006, more than 35,000 men in the UK were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

• Over the last 30 years prostate cancer rates in Great Britain have almost tripled, although much of the increase is due to increased detection through widespread use of the PSA test.

• Almost 60% of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men aged over 70 years.

• Around 300,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in Europe each year. The lowest rates are in Southern and Eastern Europe and the highest rates are in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

• Worldwide, more than 670,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. The highest rates are in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Western and Northern Europe whilst the lowest rates are in East and South Central Asia.

For more information about prostate cancer you can visit our CancerHelp UK website prostate cancer pages.

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The difference you can make

Professor Mackay’s drug discovery programme could bring us closer to developing better treatments with fewer side effects for men with prostate cancer.

Please help us raise £200,000 to support one year of Professor Mackay’s ground-breaking research  to beat prostate cancer.