A trial drug from Germany's Bayer and Norwegian biotech Algeta is found to be prolonging the lives of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

At London's Royal Marsden Hospital prostate cancer patients were given a powerful alpha radiation drug upon which the doctors found that they lived longer, and experienced less pain and side effects.

According to data presented recently at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm, Alpharadin, the experimental drug, was discontinued early following an interim analysis which showed that patients in receipt of it over the normal treatment had lower risk of dying than those receiving just the presently existing therapy.

Patients with secondary cancers were considered for the study. Lead researcher Dr Chris Parker said it was a significant step forward. The trial was abandoned as it would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo, said Dr Parker.

Radiation, which has been used to treat tumors for decades, can damage the genetic code inside cancerous cells. Based on the active ingredient radium 223, Alpharadin is designed to treat patients with advanced disease whose cancer has spread to their bones.

According to the American Cancer Society, one in six men gets prostate cancer at some point in his life, and one in 36 dies from the disease.

Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. Most prostate cancers are slow growing; however, there are cases of aggressive prostate cancers.

An important part of evaluating prostate cancer is determining the stage, or how far the cancer has spread. Knowing the stage helps define prognosis and is useful when selecting therapies.