UK life sciences company BTG could be set for a windfall if the promise shown in early-stage trials of the prostate cancer treatment abiraterone comes to fruition.

Data from the Phase I trial, which have been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology show that 21 chemotherapy-naive men with advanced prostate cancer resistant to multiple hormonal therapies experienced significant tumour shrinkage and reduction in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels when treated with abiraterone. Both trade and mass media have been hugely impressed by the admittedly-small study and experts believe it could be an important new potential treatment option for aggressive prostate cancer.

Where BTG fits in to the equation is that the firm acquired abiraterone from the Institute of Cancer Research and, having funded its early development and secured the intellectual property position, subsequently licensed it to the USA’s Cougar Biotechnology.

In this latest study, conducted by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital, patients were followed for two-and-a-half years and most had stable disease throughout the period with few side effects. BTG noted that it follows a number of other Phase I and Phase II studies supporting the efficacy of abiraterone and earlier this year, Cougar started a 1200-patient Phase III trial using the oral, also known as CB7630, in men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer who have failed standard chemotherapy.

Louise Makin, BTG’s chief executive, said the company is “delighted that abiraterone continues to show excellent potential as a new treatment for these resistant forms of prostate cancer, which represent a significant unmet need.” BTG will receive milestone payments and royalties on sales of CB7630 if it finally makes it to market, possibly by 2011.