A new drug is being hailed as a potential breakthrough in the fight against prostate cancer, which kills 600 New Zealand men a year.
The new drug called Abiraterone was trialled overseas and is being hailed as a potential breakthrough in the fight against prostate cancer.
But experts in New Zealand are warning it's too soon to say if it really will live up to the hype.
Doctors in Britain say Abiraterone represents a 'major step
forward' in the treatment of highly aggressive prostate cancer
which, before now, has been almost an untreatable disease.
The quality of life of men in the trial, whose cancer was advanced and had spread to other parts of the body, improved markedly.
One of those men was British prostate patient Rick Pflaum. He lived on morphine as the cancer had spread to his bones.
"Within about three months the reversal was incredibly dramatic in that I was able to return to normal activities," says Pflaum.
His tumours shrank, as did the tumours of 80% of those with advanced cancer also on the trial.
Britain's Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital have been doing trials with the drug.
The lead researcher, Dr Johann de Bono, says they believe they have made a major step forward in treating patients who have failed all other treatments.
"This drug has shown in patients to induce significant shrinkage of the cancer on scans and falling in a marker in the blood in a blood test, which we call PSA, following treatment," says de Bono.
The Royal Marsden Hospital research team say the results for many were dramatic.
"Patients, their pain goes away, their pain resolves, they can stop their painkillers and lead a normal life," says de Bono.
Trials are still at an early stage and no patient has taken it for longer than two and a half years, but results have been very promising in shrinking tumours that had previously been considered untreatable.
However prostate cancer sufferers in New Zealand are being warned to be cautiously optimistic about the drug and say the early results are intriguing.
"If it as & successful as has been shown in the small number of men so far then it will be a very important additional treatment," says Dr Chris Atkinson, of the NZ Cancer Foundation.
Atkinson, an oncologist, says other prostate cancer drugs block hormones produced in the brain which stimulate the growth of testosterone.
But Abiraterone appears to work by specifically inhibiting the growth of a hormone right where the cancer is.
"This drug specifically blocks the enzyme that produces androgen. So it's a very selective drug," says Atkinson.
In New Zealand 3,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and 600 die of it.
Even the Prostate Cancer Foundation says the drug needs a lot more testing.
Foundation president Barry Young says the drug still has a number of hurdles before it can be released, but they will be watching very carefully.
Abiraterone credibility now hangs entirely on the results of the next much larger trial, where 1,200 men worldwide will take part.
"If you treat more people you might find it's not as exciting in more people as it was in a few people. You might even find it's a bit more toxic," says Atkinson.
There are no New Zealand men in the new trial, which will mainly be tested on men in Europe and the United States.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation says the best advice it can give to men in New Zealand is early detection by going for check ups.
If successful, researchers hope Abiraterone will be cleared for distribution by 2011, though it may take some time to reach patients in New Zealand.