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)

Reference

Johann S. de Bono et al (2011). Abiraterone and Increased Survival in Metastatic Prostate Cancer New England Journal of Medicine, 364 (21), 1995-2005 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1014618