Prostate cancer drug abiraterone launched in UK

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new prostate cancer drug, developed with support from Cancer Research UK, has been launched in the UK following its licensing by the European Medicines Authority.

Abiraterone acetate, taken as a daily pill, is licensed to treat men whose advanced prostate cancer has been already treated with chemotherapy.

Results from a recent trial showed that men who received the drug along with the steroid prednisone survived for four months longer than men given just the steroid. Men given the drug also had improvements in their symptoms.

The drug, marketed by Janssen-Cilag International NV under the trade name Zytiga, still needs to be approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) before it becomes widely available on the NHS.

The treatment is different to standard hormone therapies because it halts the production of testosterone, not just in the testes but throughout the body. This prevents the hormone from fuelling the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells.

Abiraterone was first created in the early 1990s, at what is now the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's CEO, said: "We're delighted to see that abiraterone is now available in the UK, especially given the role Cancer Research UK played in the early stages of its development. It could help treat the 10,000 men diagnosed with aggressive forms of advanced prostate cancer in the UK each year.

"It's important that NICE now decides as quickly as possible whether the drug should be made routinely available to all appropriate patients. Meanwhile, decisions about whether patients can be given this drug will have to be made locally or through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

"It's important that promising new drugs are made available to patients who need them and we look forward to the NICE decision on this drug which we hope will help improve survival for men with this disease."

After its discovery, subsequent trials of the drug took place at the Royal Marsden, under the auspices of the Institute of Cancer Research.

Royal Marsden chief executive Cally Palmer said: "The development of abiraterone by The Royal Marsden and the ICR highlights the national importance of funding pioneering cancer research."

Copyright Press Association 2011