Drug gives new hope to prostate cancer patients, doctors

Provenge, a drug partially developed at the University, provides an alternative to chemotherapy.

Sarah Nienaber

A prostate cancer drug released earlier this year has changed the direction of prostate cancer treatment, and is being prescribed by at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Provenge is an expensive treatment for people whose only other option is chemotherapy. Men taking the drug lived longer in clinical trials, which were conducted in part at the University.

The immunotherapy treatment is carried out in three four-day sessions.The process begins with harvesting patientsâÄô white blood cells and sending them to a laboratory for processing. At the laboratory the cells are fused with the synthetic protein PAP found in prostate cancer cells.

The cancer cells then turn into cancer-fighting cells, which are shipped back and infused back into the patient, similar to a transfusion, said Dr. Robert Kratzke, a physician in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation, who helped research the drug.

Although the drug may be a breakthrough for those with prostate cancer, the incredible expense to ship it between labs creates a drawback.

Patients can be expected to pay upwards of $93,000 for the twelve-day treatment.

Dr. Gautam Jha, an oncologist, said at least one of his patients using the drug noted chemotherapy treatments are equally expensive and have more adverse effects than Provenge.

Dendreon, the drugâÄôs distributor, is not ready to provide it on a large-scale basis, Kratzke said.

Since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration in May, Kratzke and other University doctors have been providing Provenge to about 40 patients, with more to come.

The UniversityâÄôs involvement in the drugâÄôs research gave it an advantage in getting the drug after it was approved, he said.

Kratzke said there are various advantages to using the drug over chemotherapy.

âÄúThis immunotherapy is generally much better tolerated,âÄù Kratzke said. âÄúThere is, in general, none of the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.âÄù

 âÄúEven though itâÄôs dreadfully expensive, we hope in the next few years that, one

Kratzke said he hopes over the next few years to identify which patients benefit the most from the drug, and to increase effectiveness by âÄúmanipulating the immune system and finding out how to generate a better immune response.âÄù