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Breakthrough new drug could dramatically boost prostate cancer survival

[July 4, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

With malaria becoming increasingly drug-resistant, a team of UCF researchers is looking to use cancer drugs to treat the disease. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a revolutionary move, Swiss scientists from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the University Hospital Basel, and ETH Zurich are currently testing a groundbreaking drug designed to bolster the survival rates of patients afflicted with metastatic prostate cancer.

The project, named PROGNOSTICS (PeRsOnalised theraGNOstics of metaStaTIC proState cancer), has garnered attention within the scientific community due to its promising premise. PROGNOSTICS has received a grant of two million Swiss francs, primarily supported by the ETH Domain's strategic focus area "Personalised Health and Related Technologies."


The annual cancer report in Switzerland reveals that prostate cancer accounts for approximately 7100 new cases each year. The disease's devastating impact is further underscored by the fact that 1400 men lose their battle to prostate cancer annually, primarily due to late-stage metastasis where traditional treatments yield minimal results. For these patients, the PROGNOSTICS project offers a shimmering beacon of hope.

The project is led by a trifecta of eminent scientists: Roger Schibli from PSI, Damian Wild from the University Hospital Basel, and Nicola Aceto from ETH Zurich. Their research concentrates on a novel radioactive drug purported to hold more promise than current radiopharmaceutical treatments. The eagerly anticipated study is set to commence in July 2023, with the clinical trial scheduled for 2024, concluding by the end of 2025.


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One of the project's significant goals is to provide an effective treatment for approximately one-third of patients with metastatic prostate cancer who currently find existing therapies ineffective. PSI has dedicated a decade to researching the potential therapeutic uses of a new isotope, terbium-161.

Cristina Müller's research group at PSI's Centre for Radiopharmaceutical Sciences revealed that terbium-161 has shown a potent ability to eradicate tumors in laboratory tests. Within the PROGNOSTICS framework, this promising treatment will be administered to 30 patients at the University Hospital Basel who have found previous treatments unsuccessful.


Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs comprising radioactive substances, designed to attach to tumor cells in the same manner as a key fitting into a lock, while leaving healthy cells untouched. One end of the drug carries a radioactive atom that releases electrons (beta particles) during radioactive decay. These beta particles generate aggressive radicals inside the tumor cell, subsequently attacking and destroying the cell's genetic material.

Main PROGNOSTICS applicants (from left to right): Roger Schibli, Head of the Center for Radiopharmaceutical Science ETH-PSI; Damian Wild, Head of Nuclear MedicineUniversity Hospital Basel; Nicola Aceto, ETH Zurich Department Biology. (CREDIT: PSI)

The consortium theorized why one-third of patients do not respond to current prostate cancer treatments: the radioactive decay's emitted electrons deliver too minuscule a dose to the smallest metastases or individual tumor cells, allowing them to survive.


In the PROGNOSTICS project, researchers are testing a drug utilizing the isotope terbium-161, which emits electrons with a wide range of energies, including conversion and Auger electrons. Owing to their low energies, these electrons can only travel a few micrometres, concentrating their destructive power on a cell or cluster of cells. Consequently, the precision of the attack is amplified, and the damage to the tumor cell prevents it from dividing and forming metastases.

Roger Schibli heads the Centre for Radiopharmaceutical Science ETH-PSI. (CREDIT: Paul Scherrer Institute/Markus Fischer)

Promising preclinical studies in mice conducted at PSI offer encouraging prospects for this innovative approach. Further trials will soon commence at the University Hospital Basel, part of the project's ongoing journey.


The PROGNOSTICS project benefits from the invaluable contributions of Nicholas van der Meulen, who leads the development of isotopes at PSI's large research facilities. This effort bridges the gap between several scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacology, and medicine. This interdisciplinary teamwork is fundamental in transitioning this therapeutic approach from the laboratory to patient application.

Cristina Müller heads the Nuclide Chemistry research group at the Paul Scherrer Institute. (CREDIT: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic)

Roger Schibli, one of the project leads, proudly emphasized the project's potential: “We have shown in the past that we are capable of successfully conducting translational drug research.” His confidence stems from the team's rich history of success in such interdisciplinary ventures.


If the PROGNOSTICS project achieves its ambitious goals, the resulting breakthrough could mark a turning point in prostate cancer treatment. Further, more extensive clinical trials will ensue, potentially heralding a new era in combatting this challenging disease.

For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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