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Abiraterone shows promise for some men with advanced prostate cancer

You may have spotted reports today about the drug abiraterone showing promise for men with advanced prostate cancer. Cancer Research UK was involved in the discovery and early development of abiraterone, so it’s heartening to see that this early lab work could soon translate into patient benefit.

But we want to clarify that the main results of this trial have been available since October last year, when we wrote a longer piece on the research.

So why exactly is abiraterone in the news again?

Full results now published

When we first wrote about this work, the researchers had just presented their findings at a scientific conference for the first time. Now, they’ve gone a step further and published the full results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The main findings and conclusions are the same – abiraterone extends life by an average of almost four months in men whose advanced prostate cancer has stopped responding to other treatments.

But it’s also important to state that men on this trial had a specific type of prostate cancer and a specific treatment history. Results from other ongoing clinical trials are needed before we know if abiraterone could be effective for men with less advanced prostate cancer, or whether it might be an option for men who haven’t yet had chemotherapy.

Cautious optimism

The full publication of this research comes just weeks after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved abiraterone  for the treatment of certain advanced prostate cancers, based on the results of this trial.

So we are cautiously optimistic about the work, which shows that abiraterone could soon give valuable extra months to men in the UK with few other treatment options. But more research is needed before we know whether it can be used to treat a wider range of prostate cancers.

And there may be other uses for this drug too. For example, we’re helping to fund a clinical trial to see if abiraterone is effective for the treatment of breast cancer that has spread.

Next steps

Before a drug becomes available to patients on the NHS it must first be licensed. It then needs to be appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). In the coming months we will follow these processes with great interest, and hope that a decision is made as quickly as possible.

Oliver Childs, Senior Science Information Officer

  • 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)


Johann S. de Bono et al (2011). Abiraterone and Increased Survival in Metastatic Prostate Cancer New England Journal of Medicine, 364 (21), 1995-2005


Dave February 3, 2012

You need to read the medical study, by taking the drug it does not automatically give you 4 months of life. It showed “on average” it increased life expectancy by approx 4 months but there is a deviation as there are many factors. The fact is the drug is not effective enough to justify the cost. In reality Nice think its not much good. With end of life drugs we need to draw the line somewhere, 4 months, 2 months, 2 weeks, all are valuable times to spend with loved ones but its hard to put a figure on that and it shouldnt be an emotional decision. Who is to say that going for a brisk walk every day would not increase your life expectancyby more or less, or improving your diet. Its very hard with these types of drug that only statisticly offer an improvement, and not a “cure”, to prove they actually help. We need mechanisms like this to make sure the drugs that do come online do actually show some real benefits.

yvonne mulhearn January 24, 2012

Hi, my husband who is 52 was diagnosed with metatastic prostate cancer in june 2010. He had a grade10 tumour and was in agony with the bone mets. He had chemotherapy from may 2011 to september. The pain in his back and legs got worse in november and he underwent another mri scan which showed the cancer in his spine had got worse and was pressing on the sciatic nerve, he was in aginising nerve pain in his back and legs. He then had a course of radiotherapy and spent a week in marie curie where they reviewed his pain medication. By this time he had lost three stone and looked so ill I thought nothing could work for him. He started aberaterone the week b4 christmas and the difference in him is amazing. He is vertually pain free, has put weight on and looks like his old self, we have started to go out again and he even goes to work a couple of days a week. I dont know how long the drug will work for, I would be very grateful for anyone to let me know how long they have been on it and if it is still working for them. I thank god my husband was able to start this drug and count my blessings every day. Good luck to you all out there who have this awful illness and I hope that aberaterone is available and works for you. xx

Geoff Davies September 21, 2011

Im advanced Ca with metestasis, but not had Chemo , I ve been waiting for Abiraterone to be available for my situation, but it looks like it will take too long in trials before I am eligable for it , Good luck to the lucky ones that can have it !

Andy G July 3, 2011

I’m sorry to hear there are such problems in the UK… While the drug isn’t yet available neither here in Switzerland, my father was lucky that he could enter a clinical trial for abiraterone and gets it since end of January. He was nearly at the end of the road before – PSA values were at 1400, several chemotherapies failed, and his hemoglobin was pretty low (several transfusions before), so he hardly fulfilled the trial requirements and had a pretty bad prognosis. Nevertheless, the effect was pretty strong, PSA dropped to 200 within 6 weeks and didn’t change much since then. Of course one day the drug will fail, but my father today feels much better than even an year ago, so it would not surprise me if he finally gains around an year. I really hope it wil finally work for all of you – if the drug works, I think it will even work at very advanced stages. With a PSA of 1400 we really didn’t have hope for much anymore.

Howard Riley July 2, 2011

I am from canada and on a clinical trial with abirratone for the last 24 months. my psa dropped from 23 to 1point6 in 4 weeks. at this point my psa is 1point1. my prayer is this life saving drug is made avilable everywhere

John Doe June 15, 2011

I was fortunate to be able to move to France from the UK in Mar 2010 and have since tried some things not available in the UK on the NHS. My reasons for leaving the UK were that the NHS could not offer me further treatment.

I have been on Aberiterone since Mar 2011 here in France and i find it both disgusting and unbelievable that it is still not available in the country where they were happy to use patients as guinea pigs for trials, yet now it has finished its trail status, it is not readily available.

If you have th eopportunity ot go to France, take it, it may be one thing which could extend your life!!!

A Frost June 12, 2011

Looks like it’s going to be too late for us………..

Jo Parsons June 10, 2011

My father is in the same / similar position and we , too, are desperate to hear if any progress has been made re this drug. We feel it’s our only hope and from what info we have manage to gather, it seems the drug along with Prednisilone has been found to improve quality of life considerably. It’s heartbreaking to watch brave men suffer…

dawn nicholls June 8, 2011

We have reached the stage that there are few options left open to us….one more radiotherapy session and then onto a brand new chemotherapy which we have no idea will work or not. Just when can we expect this drug to be available to us almost at the end of the road!!!!! We need help…and fast. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeese.

Oliver Childs May 27, 2011

We understand people’s frustration at the delay in making this drug available. For those interested in knowing more about this issue, there are a couple previous posts we’d like to draw your attention to:

Although the NICE process can seem agonisingly slow, it is also extremely thorough and robust, and is being copied around the world. There’s information about how this all works on our CancerHelp UK website. You might also be interested to read or listen to the interview we did with NICE chairman Professor Mike Rawlins.

The US healthcare system is very different to our own, so it can be difficult to make direct comparisons. Again, you might be interested in our post from 2009 on these differences and how they affect cancer patients.

At Cancer Research UK, we will be following the UK licensing and then subsequent NICE appraisal of abiraterone closely. We want this to happen as swiftly as possible. After all, whilst it’s not an out-and-out ‘cure’, this trial shows that abiraterone could give valuable extra months to some men with advanced disease in the UK.

Oliver Childs, Cancer Research UK

A J Frost May 26, 2011

How frustrating it is for sufferers of prostate cancer, who are at the stage where abiraterone would be a much-needed option, to learn that a drug developed here by British scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, has been fast-tracked for use in the USA. Good luck to all those in America who can now be treated with abiraterone, but how many more British men have to die before it is made available to them. Surely a drug which has made headline news for the past few years because of its effectiveness could be appraised at top speed in order to extend lives.