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New drug offers last-ditch hope for prostate cancer patients

March 4, 2010 |  9:19 am

An experimental drug called cabazitaxel increases survival by 30%  in men with advanced prostate cancer that has become resistant to all other forms of treatment, researchers will report Friday at a San Francisco meeting called the 2010 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium. Although, on average, the drug extended survival to 15.1 months, compared with 12.7 months for those taking another cancer drug called mitoxantrone, it doubled the number of men who lived two years, according to Dr. Oliver Sartor of the Tulane Cancer Center in New Orleans, who headed the study.

Prostate cancer is typically treated with drugs that reduce the body's production of the hormone testosterone, which is required by some tumors for growth — a process called chemical castration. When the cancer continues to grow, it is then often treated with docetaxel, trade-named Taxotere. But somehow the cancer cells learn how to pump out the Taxotere before it can exert its effects, becoming resistant to the drug. Cabazitaxel, trade-named Jevtana, is a chemical derivative of docetaxel that is apparently not recognized by the cancer cells and not pumped out.

Sartor and his colleagues tested the drug in 755 men in 26 countries who had castration-resistant prostate cancer. Half received cabazitaxel and half mitoxantrone. Those receiving the drug lived a median of 30% longer. About 7.5% of men receiving the drug, however, suffered fever and lowered white blood cell counts, compared with 1.3% of those in the control group.

The trial was sponsored by Sanofi-Aventis, which manufactures both Jevtana and Taxotere. When the drug is approved, analysts expect it to cost about the same as Taxotere — about $2,500 per treatment cycle. The company is also sponsoring trials administering the drug to patients earlier in the course of therapy before they become resistant to Taxotere.

About 192,000 U.S. men develop prostate cancer each year, and more than 27,000 die of it.

— Thomas H. Maugh II