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Prostate Cancer Patients to Benefit from Drug Discovered at the ICR



Thursday 28 April 2011



A drug discovered at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has today been approved in the US for use by men with metastatic prostate cancer.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today gave the green light for abiraterone acetate to be used in combination with prednisone for the treatment of “castration-resistant” prostate cancer in patients who have received prior docetaxel chemotherapy.

“Today’s announcement marks the culmination of two decades of work at the ICR to design and develop this drug,” ICR Chief Executive Professor Alan Ashworth says. “This very significant achievement underlines the importance of drug discovery work in the not-for-profit sector.”

Abiraterone acetate was invented by Professor Mike Jarman and his colleagues in what is now the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR in Sutton, south of London. Prostate cancer cells need the male hormone testosterone to grow, so the team set out to design a drug that would cut off the source of testosterone.

The ICR continued research on abiraterone acetate with The Royal Marsden Hospital after licensing the drug to Ortho Biotech Oncology Research & Development, Unit of Cougar Biotechnology, Inc. in 2004, working with them on the pivotal trial that led to the US approval. Cougar’s affiliate, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, has a pending application for a license to sell the drug in Europe. 

Abiraterone blocks the CYP17 enzyme complex that is involved in the synthesis of testosterone. Standard hormone treatments only block production of male hormones in the testes and not the adrenal glands, but recent research has shown that tumours can produce their own supply. In addition, the adrenal gland continues to make male hormones.  By inhibiting the pathways involved in the production of testosterone, abiraterone blocks its generation in all tissues, including in the cancer itself. This means the drug has potential to treat patients with the castration-resistant aggressive form of the disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK, with more than 35,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Around 10,000 men die of the disease every year, almost all of them from its castration-resistant form.

Professor Johann de Bono from the ICR and The Royal Marsden Hospital, who led the drug through Phase I, II and III clinical trials, says: “Prostate cancer kills one man each hour in the UK. New therapies are desperately needed. Abiraterone acetate has been approved for men who are no longer responding to other drugs and so we are very pleased that this decision means they will have another treatment available to them.”


Media Contact: ICR Head of Communications Kate Fielding on 020 7153 5430 or after hours 077217 47900

Notes to editors:

Abiraterone acetate is not currently available in the UK.

Prostate cancer has overtaken lung cancer to become the most common cancer in men. Prostate cancer is considered to be advanced once it has spread beyond the prostate region.

Abiraterone was discovered at the ICR in research supported by grants from Cancer Research Campaign (now Cancer Research UK), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and BTG International LTD. Subsequent patient trials and further research on abiraterone was supported by Cougar Biotechnology Inc. / Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, Cancer Research UK, Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, the MRC, BTG International LTD, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Prostate Cancer Research Foundation, Prostate Cancer Charity, the ICR and The Royal Marsden.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre.
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise.
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe.
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research.
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction.
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world.
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years.

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About Cancer Research UK


  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research
  • The charity's groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.


For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit


Johann de Bono
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