The Los Angeles Times is running a story today about a prostate cancer study conducted in Britain that resulted in a dramatic shrinkage in prostate tumors, resulting in a survival rate that more than doubled for 70% to 80% of patients in the trial with aggressive cancers. The drug used in the study, called abiraterone, should be available by 2011.
The drug works by blocking an enzyme called cytochrome P17, which helps convert cholesterol to testosterone. By doing so, the drug blocks the ability of the body to produce testosterone, which fuels prostate cancer. The drug also blocks the production of estrogen.
The initial study consisted of only 21 patients, but a new study is underway involving 250, and early results seem to show the same progress. A study is also underway to evaluate the drug's use for breast cancer, but no results have been released yet.
Most patients diagnosed with prostate cancer die within six months. Some of the patients in the original study have been on the treatment for as long as 32 months and are still doing well, with smaller tumors and less pain. And considering that the patients used in these trials were at the end stage of the disease, with aggressive tumors in the worst stage of cancer, and for whom normal treatments such as chemical castration were ineffective, these results are spectacular.
When the drug is released to the market, I suspect that it will quickly become a first-line treatment for prostate cancer, replacing chemical castration. If that happens, the survival rate for prostate cancer should improve greatly.