Clinical trials will start today for a new prostate cancer drug developed by researchers at the BC Cancer Agency and University of British Columbia.

The new medication, which took 17 years to develop, is aimed at men with the most advanced, hard-to-treat form of the disease.

Approximately 30 patients — in British Columbia, Arizona, Michigan and Washington states — will participate in the trials, which are expected to last about five years.

The new drug, called EPI-506 was developed from a compound found in a marine sponge from Papua New Guinea. It is aimed at men whose treatment for the disease has been unsuccessful, said Dr. Marianne Sadar, who developed the drug along with UBC chemistry professor Raymond Anderson.

Right now, between 70 to 80 per cent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will be cured with surgery or radiation, Dr. Sadar said. But for the rest, these treatments have failed.

Hope for patients

"There are a lot of people that are banking that this might really help patients," Sadar said.

Sadar and Anderson discovered the compound for the new drug from the marine sponge. Anderson had a collection of sponge extracts in his lab, Sadar said.

The organisms are often used in drug research because they're made up of molecules with many drug-like properties. The compound extracted from the sponge was developed into the new drug.

Sadar said she began working on the drug in 1998.

If the clinical trials are successful, it will be up to regulators at Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the drug for use in Canada and the U.S.

"There are a lot of people that are banking that this might really help patients," Sadar said.

"Fingers are crossed. We worked so hard for 17 years."