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Light therapy "huge leap forward" for early prostate cancer treatment

Thursday, 12th January, 2017

LIGHT WORK - Researchers say VTP may be a promising treatment for localised prostate cancer.

A BACTERIA found at the bottom of the ocean could hold the key to non-surgical treatment for men with low-risk prostate cancer.

A trial using the new non-invasive light therapy treatment found that almost half of patients treated went into complete remission thanks to the novel procedure.

In a study of more than 400 men with localised prostate cancer researchers at University College London found the new treatment, called vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP), can kill prostate cancer cells without damaging the healthy surrounding tissue.

The procedure involved injecting a light-sensitive drug called WST11 - derived from ocean floor-dwelling bacteria - into the bloodstream. To survive with very little sunlight, this bacteria has evolved to convert light into energy. Upon activation with a laser, the drug releases free radicals that destroy cancer cells.

Lead investigator Dean of UCL's Medical Sciences and consultant urologist Professor Mark Emberton said the results of the tissue-preserving treatment were "excellent news" for men with early localised prostate cancer.

"This is truly a huge leap forward for prostate cancer treatment," he said.

VTP was also found to significantly reduce the need for radical therapy.

Professor Emberton said radical therapy, which involves surgically removing or irradiating the whole prostate, can have significant long-term side effects including erectile problems and incontinence.

He said he also hoped in the future, VTP will be effective against other types of cancer. "The treatment was developed for prostate cancer because of the urgent need for new therapies, but it should be translatable to other solid cancers including breast and liver cancer," Professor Emberton said.

'Complete remission'

VTP was developed by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in collaboration with biotech company STEBA Biotech.

For their phase III trial, Professor Emberton and colleagues enrolled 413 men from 47 treatment sites across 10 European countries. 

All participants had been diagnosed with early localised prostate cancer and were under active surveillance, where the cancer is closely monitored through prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, digital rectal exams or prostate biopsies.

The team found that 49 per cent of patients treated with VTP went into complete remissions, compared with only 13.5 per cent of patients under active surveillance.

VTP patients were also three times less likely to have their cancer progress.

VTP treatment is currently being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency so may be a number of years before it can be offered to patients more widely.

Australian prostate cancer facts

  • In Australia, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men.
  • More than 3,000 men die of prostate cancer in Australia every year.
  • More men die of prostate cancer than women die of breast cancer.

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