American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Press Releases

Scientists Identify Treatable Weakness in Lethal Form of Prostate Cancer


November 17, 2011

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  • Neuroendocrine prostate cancers overexpress the AURKA and MYCN genes.
  • PHA-739358, an investigational aurora kinase inhibitor, inhibited these cancers.
PHILADELPHIA — A recent report in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, suggests that a new treatment may be on the horizon for neuroendocrine prostate cancers, the most lethal subtype of this disease.

Mark Rubin, M.D., professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said although fewer than 2 percent of men with prostate cancer present with neuroendocrine prostate cancer, the more common prostate adenocarcinoma can also evolve into a neuroendocrine prostate cancer, and the prognosis is grim.

“This is a highly lethal form of prostate cancer,” said Rubin. “It is also rare enough that it’s hard to get samples. This study is the largest of its kind, and it shows that we may be able to treat this highly aggressive disease.”

Rubin and colleagues used next-generation RNA sequencing to profile samples of seven neuroendocrine prostate cancers, 30 prostate adenocarcinomas and five benign samples of prostate tissue.

They found that the genes AURKA and MYCN were overexpressed and amplified in 40 percent of neuroendocrine prostate cancers and in 5 percent of prostate adenocarcinomas.

Moreover, the researchers found that treatment with the investigational aurora kinase (AURKA) inhibitor PHA-739358 inhibited the growth of these neuroendocrine tumors.

Rubin said that PHA-739358 has been studied in prostate cancers before without success, but this may be due to the fact that previously studied prostate cancers were not neuroendocrine cancers.

“Prostate cancer is not a homogenous disease. We need to continue to sort out the aggressive disease from the indolent and treat accordingly,” said Rubin.

The study was funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Ann and William Bresnan Foundation, the Early Detection Research Network and the Department of Defense.  

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards to young investigators, and it also funds cutting-edge research projects conducted by senior researchers. The AACR has numerous fruitful collaborations with organizations and foundations in the U.S. and abroad, and functions as the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated time frame. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care, and Educational Workshops are held for the training of young cancer investigators. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. In 2010, AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals. The AACR also publishes Cancer Today, a magazine for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, which provides practical knowledge and new hope for cancer survivors. A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for cancer research and biomedical science, and the need for national policies that foster innovation and the acceleration of progress against the 200 diseases we call cancer.

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