Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, and it has been estimated that up to 10,000 men in the UK are diagnosed each year with the most aggressive form of the disease. A small scale clinical trial has now shown that abiraterone is able to shrink prostate cancer tumours in patients who have not responded to alternative medical or surgical treatments. Abiraterone works by inhibiting production of male hormones, which can stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells, throughout the body and not just in the testes.
Many of men on the trial reported significant improvements in their quality of life and some were able to stop taking morphine for control of pain caused by the cancer spreading into their bones.
A study published in the July 18th issue of The Lancet shows that a drug once used in Russia to treat hayfever has the potential to improve symptoms in dementia patients. The study of 183 patients, tested dimebon (dimebolin) vs placebo in patients with untreated mild-to-moderate dementia. Patients taking dimebon improved over a six month period whilst those taking placebo got worse.
A smaller group of patients who continued taking dimebon for a further six months showed continuing improvement over this period. This ongoing improvement is seen as particularly important since none of the approved drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease has shown increasing improvement over twelve months. Although this was a relatively small study, the initial results are very encouraging and warrant further investigation.
In a separate study, also reported in The Lancet, immunisation against the amyloid-beta peptide was shown to clear amyloid plaques from the brain, but not to prevent the progressive neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Although many companies do not publicise trials, the available evidence shows that biologics are still lagging behind traditional small molecules in the drug development stakes. An analysis published by DrugResearcher of drugs entering clinical trials in 2007 showed that more than twice as many small molecules as biologics made it to first time in man. Although biologics are likely to make up an increasing proportion of new products, there will still be areas where small molecules can achieve better results. Biologics work primarily on disease targets outside the cell, whereas small molecules can also work inside cells. In any therapeutic area, ignoring the intracellular targets may prove costly.