Attacking prostate cancer: a game of chess

As a clinician researcher at St Vincent’s Hospital, A/Prof Louise Emmett has come to be a seasoned chess player against a formidable opponent: prostate cancer.

Devising a clinical cancer trial takes quite a bit of masterminding indeed: planning how to attack the tumour, anticipating its next move and designing the best way to block it. This is how A/Prof Louise Emmett engineered her game plan.

Combining two highly effective targeted treatments, enzalutamide and Lutetium PSMA, she wants to maximise their effect with a double attack against the cancer cells. The clinical trial, called ENZA-p, is set to involve 12 sites around Australia and enrol 160 patients with metastatic prostate cancer.

To help A/Prof Louise Emmett get this randomized, multi-site trial off the ground, St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation provided her with a $400,000 grant. This seed-funding enabled her and her team to obtain a $4 million grant from Movember and the Australian Government (Prostate Cancer Research Alliance).

The funding has also allowed collaboration with researchers at a multidisciplinary level, including scientists at the Garvan Institute such as A/Prof Alex Swarzbick. Looking at trial patients at the cellular level, his role is to examine treatment response and identify why a treatment fails when it does, so that A/Prof Louise Emmett can adjust her strategy at the clinical level.

By uniting their strengths on the biological and clinical fronts, they aim to make the treatment better, faster.

To prolong the lives of prostate cancer patients, it is about adjusting tactics and outsmarting the troop of cancer cells. The ENZA-p research team plans to do just that by predicting which combination of drugs will work best for each patient, when to use the treatment and intensify it for optimal response. The goal is to provide each patient with individualized treatment to improve the chances of successful outcomes.

With this trial, A/Prof Louise Emmett could shift the paradigm in prostate cancer treatment, and change the whole game in favour of the good guys - patients!