A new study offers rare hope to men with advanced prostate cancer. According to phase-I clinical results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Tuesday, a new drug, abiraterone, dramatically shrunk the size of tumors and offered lasting benefits for prostate patients, compared with existing treatments.
This year, according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 186,000 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and about 28,000 will die from the disease.
Researchers found that this experimental drug showed significant benefits for men who had exhausted all other treatments.
Herb Hoffman, 83, epitomizes the power of abiraterone. Last year, Hoffman could barely move, from the pain of advanced prostate cancer.
"This one drug has changed my life," Hoffman told ABC News. "There's no question at all. I stopped the usual medications. I began this drug, and that has made all the difference."
Though it is in early development, many cancer doctors are optimistic about abiraterone.
"My colleagues and I are very excited about this drug, because we are consistently seeing patients who benefit, and without side effects," said Dr. Christopher Logothetis, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Cougar Biotechnology Inc., who sponsored the trial, says the drug could be approved for sale in the U.S. as early as 2011, if all goes well..
Initial findings suggest more patients with advanced prostate cancer respond to abiraterone than other drugs in development. There is also evidence the tumors shrink more on this drug and that benefits last longer, in some cases, a year and a half.
In Hoffman's case, doctors predicted he had only three months left to live. That was last October, when he began taking the daily abiraterone pills. Hoffman credits the drug with already keeping him alive six months longer than expected.
"In a week, he was strong, he was hungry," said Hoffman's wife Gilda. "His PSA levels dropped 50 percent in one week, and every day that passed, he could do more and more."
Dr. Howard Scher of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York said these stories make perfect sense.
"Prostate cancers are fueled by testosterone. This drug lowers the levels of testosterone below what we can achieve with other drugs."
The next step is a much larger, international clinical trial, which is currently enrolling patients. The goal is to determine whether the many benefits of this drug translate into prolonged survival for patients, the way it has for Hoffman.
"It's been a rebirth," Hoffman said. "It's called a 'renaissance.' The renaissance of Herb Hoffman."