- Please note – Abiraterone has now been approved by NICE.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve been following the story of abiraterone – an exciting experimental prostate cancer drug, for over two years.
Today saw the announcement of yet more encouraging news – a large-scale phase III trial involving nearly 1,200 men has confirmed the drug’s ability to extend survival – by an average of nearly four months – in men whose advanced prostate cancer had already been treated, and who had no other treatment.
The drug’s manufacturers will now apply for a licence to market the drug, and we hope that it’ll eventually be available to patients in the UK in the not-too-distant future.
However, despite today’s headlines, we do need to stress that this drug is not currently available yet in the UK.
Caveats out the way, let’s have a quick look at the drug’s history…
The story of abiraterone
Many prostate cancers’ growth is fuelled by the male hormone testosterone. In the early 90s, Professor Mike Jarman and his colleagues, in what is now the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), were looking for drugs that could shut off testosterone production, thereby stopping prostate cancer cells from growing.
In 1994, they found it in a chemical called CB7360, later renamed abiraterone. With Cancer Research UK funding, they worked out how to ‘formulate’ the drug – that is, work out exactly to package it into a pill that patients could take.
Years of testing followed, led principally by researchers and doctors at the ICR, and funded primarily by a pharmaceutical company called Cougar Biotechnologies – now part of Johnson & Johnson.
Fourteen years later, in July 2008, this testing and investment finally began to bear fruit. The results of a small phase I trial of just 21 men, funded by Cougar, showed that the drug could shrink prostate tumours in men with advanced prostate cancer. And less than a year later, the drug hit the headlines again, when researchers found that men with a certain gene were more likely to respond to the drug.
Earlier this year, more good news arrived, when a larger phase II trial of 47 men showed that abiraterone could reduce PSA levels in men with advanced prostate cancer that is resistant to hormone treatment – the first time any benefit had been shown for men with such advanced disease.
The new trial results released today by the ICR team build on this promise.
Men on the trial were either given abiraterone together with a steroid hormone treatment called prednisone, or just prednisone and a placebo (dummy tablet). Men on the placebo part of the trial survived an average of nearly 11 months; men who were given abiraterone survived for nearly 15 months.
This result was so encouraging that the men who had been getting the placebo were switched to abiraterone.
A risky investment
For such a promising drug, it’s surprising to learn that at one stage it was very nearly left on the shelf.
Cancer Research UK saw its potential at a very early stage and we helped to fund the pre-clinical work on the drug. The theory behind the drug was certain but the investment was risky – however, it was one that we believed was worth taking.
But this investment has paid off, and will give hope to men who currently have no other treatment options.
Not the end of the story
Before we get too excited, we have to point out that this drug is not yet licensed for use. There is no way, as yet, to get it in the UK.
And the results so far only show that the drug works in very ill men who have no other treatment options. There’s a lot more work to do to find out how best to give the drug to men with prostate cancer at earlier stages in the disease’s progression.
Nevertheless, this story is one that we at Cancer Research UK are extremely encouraged by.
It shows how a detailed understanding of the biology of cancer cells can lead to a new idea for treatment; how the charity sector can work with academia and the pharmaceutical industry to turn that idea into a reality; and how the painstaking work of researchers and doctors can, ultimately, help improve cancer patients’ lives.
- There’s a helpful Q&A on abiraterone on our CancerHelp UK website.
- If you have any questions or concerns about prostate cancer, you can call our Cancer Information Nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday)
pamela May 19, 2011
Are you sure Kat? My dad is taking, I don’t think he’s on a clinical trial.
Maclyn Parker April 27, 2011
Is Abiraterone available yet to the public in the UK?
I would appreciate any information you could give me.
Kat Arney April 27, 2011
Abiraterone is currently only available to men who take part in a clinical trial. Before doctors can prescribe a drug it needs a licence and at the moment abiraterone is not licensed for use in the UK.
This page on CancerHelp UK has more information about abiraterone.
Jeanette Hooper April 17, 2011
My husband has advanced prostate cancer with metaseses in his hip and having chemo at the moment on a trial call trapeze. Can Ian Moore tell me what diet he has been following we are trying to follow a diary free diet, nothing from a cow, no beef or any products made from cows milk, but it can be very difficult, nearly everything on supermarket counters contain cows milk
john cartland April 11, 2011
It is very upsetting to read pieces such as those written by David Whiting. I was diagnosed with advanced Prostate cancer in November 2008. It was metastatic. Since then I have become paraplegic due to spinal pressure and am confined to a wheelchair. For your information, David, right up to the time of diagnosis I was in the gym at least three times a week, swam 3 kilometers a week and took a whole bunch of supplements. So that didn’t work then. So I would like to thank the Royal Berks Cancer Centre, The Royal Marsden, UK Cancer, MacMillan and many others who have been supportive in what is a challenging situation. It’s great to see the positive stuff on the website. I’d far prefer to believe in positive results than snake oil (or fish oil come to that)
ian moore February 25, 2011
SUCH A COMPLEX DESEASE , DIET WILL MOST CERTAINLY HAVE AN EFFECT, BUT THE WORLD IS GETTING SMALLER BY THE DAY , AND SOON ALL PEOPLES WILL BE EATING THE SAME, IMAGINE SUSHI JUST TEN YEARS AGO,. ILLNESESS OF THE EAST,. AND OF THE SOUTH WILL BE THE SAME, I AM SO GLAD OUR PROFESIONALS IN THE HEALTH INDUSTRY DONT JUST LOOK AT THE PRESENT,BUT ARE LOOKING TO OUR FUTURE,. IF YOU WANT TO BE ILL YOU WILL BE ILL ,._IAN MOORE , , WINGERS , DO YOU THINK THESE ANGELS ARE NOT TRYING TO KEEP US WELL ., GIVEN ANOTHER TWO MONTHS TO LIVE ,. INSTEAD OF DYING SOON ,. IS A BONUS ,. _____________________________________________
ian moore February 25, 2011
i am a patient of the RMH SUTTON, i was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer that had spread to my bones five years ago, i entered the stampede trial ,chemo etc, Then alpharadin trial, now Abiraterone trial, EVERY THING THE ROYAL MARSDEN COULD DO TO HELP MY QUALITY OF LIFE THEY HAVE DONE ,I WALK LOTS , EAT LOTS , I HAVE A LIFE , HOLIDAYS WITH GRAN KIDS , WITH MY AGRESIVE CANCER WITHOUT THE TRIALS IVE BEEN ON THIS JUST NOT WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE,.AND I,M STILL FEELING OK,. IAN MOORE,.
slocks February 18, 2011
Hi william, a member of my family has been referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London where Abiraterone has been successfully trialed.Hope this helps. x
Henry Scowcroft January 10, 2011
There’s more info about abiraterone on our CancerHelp UK website:
You may find it helpful to contact our nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 from 9am till 5pm Monday to Friday, or you can email them at the following link, https://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/utilities/contact-us/send-a-question/
Williams January 9, 2011
Please, if Abiraterone is NOT available in the UK, from where can it be obtained? MANY THANKS
valerie Johnston October 26, 2010
If the drug is not available in the Uk how are people getting it. My brother is struggling at the moment. His quality of life is poor any improvement would be appreciated. If there is any way I could get this drug for him I would do it. Any ideas welcome.
Gerald October 14, 2010
David Whiting is so arrogant. I wholeheartedly support the concept that individuals have a responsibility to look after themselves. However, I’d like to point out to David that some people develop cancer having led a healthy life in terms of diet , exercise, no cigarette smoking etc etc. I hope to goodness he never needs the outputs if CRUK and the pharmaceutical industry who together have improved not just mortality rates of those with cancer but have also improved the quality of life for patients who are unfortunate enough to have suffered from cancer , despite ttemoring to reduce risk factors. Abiraterone offers real hope to men with advanced disease and I’m heartened by Sue’s story.
Han October 13, 2010
David Whiting – If prevention is the best treatment what do you do for the people who already have cancer? What if you’re not classed as an “at risk” person do you try and do what you can of the prevention without medical assistance?
From what I understand (and I’m not scientist), although there are categories of cancer they are all different because of the location or the rate or development therefore one treatment may work for Person A but then for Person B it doesn’t work.
Paul Browne October 13, 2010
This is exciting news, so good I decided to
write a short piece about it on a science blog that I contribute to:
I really hope that the forthcoming trials in men with less advanced prostate cancer are a success, while it is possible to reduce the possibility of developing this disease through a healthy diet and lifestyle there will still be too many cases. Advances in medicine, have already saved many lives and prolonged others, new treatments such as abiraterone offer great hope to prostate cancer victims.
Oh and by the way David Whiting, cancer is the
biggest killer in China, the myth about the lower cancer rates was due poor awareness and failure to diagnose the disease.
Anonymous October 13, 2010
It is early Days and life is important
But to someone suffering / pain life becomes more precious so having the possabity to even live for awhile without pain is worth considering and when you hear about a drug that can help like abiratone its certainly worth thinking about/ having.
Someone might say there are risks or side effects but to one with prostate cancer early or late stage risks or side effects do not matter enjoying life even for a few months with loved ones means a lot to them As sue said availabity in UK will give men some hope or opportunity
Colin Gower October 12, 2010
Please do not raise too many hopes ..these are early days.
Sue Duncombe October 12, 2010
My husband started treatment with abiraterone in January 2009. Within 2 weeks he improved significantly and went from having a quality of life which was not great and we couldn’t even stay at a friend’s house overnight to being able to enjoy a holiday in South Africa in February 2009. Abiraterone gave him at least 6 months of signficantly improved quality of life which allowed him to enjoy it actively with friends and family. I eagerly await the availability of abiraterone in the UK to give other men the opportunity my husband had.
Andrew Buck October 12, 2010
The incidence of cancer increases with age. As our lifespans increase the incidence of cancer increases concomitantly. Of course lifestyle is an important element and this has ben known since Marsden first identified scrotal cancer in boys who were sent up chimneys.(Charles Knigsley’s ‘Water Babies’is just about this.)Unfortunately many individuals will not listen to this old story. We eat too much and we get fat and we eat too much of the wrong foods, we smoke, drink too much, I could go on. The sad bit is that even those who do take care of themselves still get cancer. It is cruel to stigmatise those who do get cancer as being themselves responsible. Mr Whiting might live to regret his words though I hope he does not.
Anonymous October 12, 2010
My father took part on this trial, his health went down hill within days of starting and sadly died after approx 3 months. However, after exiting the trial 2 weeks before his death his quality of life was much improved. Although this trial looks promising, there is still much work to be done. Our experience was not great, in addition to this we have not been given a chance to feedback following my father’s death.
David Whiting October 12, 2010
There are a lot of well meaning people who work in the cancer industry. However, let’s face it, you’re working for big pharma.
The answer is always a patented synthetic substance. You need to ask why there is an epidemic of cancers and why the survival rate for most has only increased by a small amount over the last several decades.
The real answer is prevention. There is a large body of research to show that you can dramatically decrease your chances of prostate cancer by taking in extra DHA (fish oil), vitamin E and curcumin. Look around the world and educate yourself as to where the incidents of all cancers is much, much lower. Clue: rural China & India. What are they doing differently? It’s not about genetics, because it’s a well known fact that whenever these people move into a westernised culture, they succumb to the same diseases as the rest of us.
The answer is always a patented chemical, it’s an multi billion dollar industry and it’s a scam.