Pursuing a targeted drug for prostate cancer

A ground-breaking research project underway at Orion seeks a more efficient treatment for advanced prostate cancer. The aim is to enhance the quality of cancer patients' life by developing a drug that could be targeted at those most in need.

Targeted prostate cancer drug Mika Mustonen Orion
Orion's Mika Mustonen, Head of Oncology, R&D.

For some time now, Orion and the US-based Endo Pharmaceuticals have been conducting a joint research project to create a new kind of medicine for the treatment of advanced prostate cancer. In the project, the effect and safety of the drug are studied simultaneously. The idea is to develop a more effective medicine that could be targeted at those cancer patients who would most benefit from it.

On the trail of a new anti-androgen

Prostate cancer is a hormonal cancer, which means that the cancer cells need the male hormone testosterone in order to grow. With certain cancer types, the progress of the disease can be delayed with anti-androgens, drugs that inhibit the function of androgen receptors, which bind testosterone to the cancer cells.

The drug candidate discovered by Orion’s researchers is a completely new type of anti-androgen.

“We are studying and developing an anti-androgen with qualities that currently cannot be found in any of our or our competitors' drugs," says Mika Mustonen, Head of Oncology, Research and Development at Orion.

Promising results so far

The purpose of the collaboration between Orion and Endo Pharmaceuticals is to combine the extensive expertise of both parties while sharing the risks associated with research.

Fortunately, the first research results have been promising.

“The research on our new drug candidate, ODM-201, suggests that we may be able to provide patients with a new alternative for the treatment of prostate cancer,” Mustonen says.

Localised prostate cancer has traditionally been treated with surgery and radiation, while prostate cancer with bone metastasis is generally treated with LHRH analogues, i.e. chemical castration. If this turns out to be ineffective, the only remaining alternative has been chemotherapy, which can have serious adverse effects.

The right drug for the right patient

Ideally, the new drug will alleviate pain while delaying the progress of cancer or stopping it altogether. But cancer is a very complex disease. Even if an effective molecule is discovered for the treatment, there is no guarantee that all patients will react in the same way to it.

The researchers at Orion and Endo Pharmaceuticals are therefore trying to target the drug to the appropriate patient groups by following biomarkers.

“Biomarkers increase the chance of success. By following them we can study topics that have not been considered before in this type of research. We can predict different phases of the disease, survey any safety risks associated with the drug and find out what kind of patients benefit most from the drug,” Mustonen says.

Enhancing quality of life

Clinical research experts at hospitals have been very interested in the ongoing research. Leading cancer researchers and research institutes in Europe and the United States are participating in the project.

“It is a great opportunity for many medical researchers to take part in innovative research and develop treatment for patients for whom current medicines do not function in the optimum way. Even if we cannot cure cancer for good, we can delay its progress significantly with the new molecule," Mustonen says.

And what kind of innovation does the Head of Oncology dream about?

“As a cancer researcher I want to enhance quality of life for cancer patients and extend their life spans, but these days I dare to believe that cures will be found for all kinds of cancers one day. It still seems like science fiction, but I’m sure that one day we will be able to cure cancer completely. It would be brilliant to be involved in something like that!”