Research Reveals New Treatment Possibilities for Prostate Cancer

Dr. Jianjun Gao, MD, PhD

Dr. Jianjun Gao, MD, PhD (left) with past CCF Chair Dr. Martin Murphy, DMedSc, PhD

April 3, 2017

Not all cancer research will result in a positive outcome for patients, but all research does provide information that continues to advance the treatment of cancer care.

Recent clinical trials, including one funded in part by the Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF) of ASCO, show that most prostate cancer patients do not respond successfully to an immune checkpoint therapy called ipilimumab.

Immunotherapy is a type of biologic cancer treatment designed to boost the body's natural immune defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.

A recent study led by Dr. Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD and supported by Dr. Jianjun Gao, MD, PhD, a former recipient of CCF’s Young Investigator Award (YIA) grant, discovered that ipilimumab treatment was able to mobilize the immune system but also produced two additional negative signals to reduce the immune system’s natural ability to kill prostate tumors. The research, published recently in Nature Medicine, also suggests that when combined with other immunotherapy agents, the therapy may be able to reduce prostate tumors.

 “Our findings suggest that immune checkpoint therapy alone is not sufficient to reduce or eliminate prostate tumors,” explains Dr. Gao, an assistant professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.  “It may be necessary to use two or more immune checkpoints at the same time to reduce tumors in prostate patients.”

Gao will continue working with Sharma and the research team as they lead another round of clinical trials for prostate cancer patients to test a combination of immune checkpoint therapies. Dr. Gao credits the support of donors who continue investing in the next big breakthrough for the chance to continue learning how to best treat prostate cancer patients.

“People who donate to cancer research play an essential role in supporting clinical trials and translational research to make discoveries to guide future clinical trials that may develop new and effective therapies for prostate cancer,” says Dr. Gao.