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UK approval sought for prostate cancer drug

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An innovative new prostate cancer drug which lengthens life-expectancy for men in the late-stage of the disease could be available for use in the UK within a year.

Abiraterone acetate, which is already approved in the US, is also being considered for licence by European regulators.

The application for approval comes after a new study produced results showing that the treatment extended the lives of men, who had few other treatment options available, for four months.

If the treatment is authorised, patients in the UK could be using it within a year, although it is unclear how much access will be given to it through the NHS.

The pill abiraterone acetate, marketed as Zytiga, signifies a ground-breaking approach to hormone therapy. Advanced prostate cancers are often successfully treated with “chemical castration” drugs which stop them being fuelled by the male hormone testosterone.

But over several years tumours typically become resistant to such therapies.

Zytiga was developed by British scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London after the discovery that some prostate cancers can produce their own testosterone.

The drug works in a completely new way, by blocking the production of male hormones in all tissues, not just the testes, including both the adrenal glands and the tumours themselves.

The new phase III trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 1,195 patients from 13 countries. All had stopped responding to standard hormone therapies as well as second-line treatments such as chemotherapy drug docetaxil.

Although the average extended survival time was four months, some men did much better, including two who are still alive after starting the treatment in 2007.

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