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Prostate pill hope for UK patients

A pill developed by British scientists to extend the lives of men with late-stage prostate cancer could be on the UK market within a year.

Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) has already been approved for use in the US and could be made available in the UK subject to European regulators following new trial results.

The pill, which was developed by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, can extend a patient's life by an average of four months.

However, it remains to be seen how readily available the pill will be on the NHS.

Zytiga marks a revolutionary change in approaches 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 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.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

New England Journal of Medicine