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“I’ll never forget the feeling”

Professor Emeritus Sten Nilsson remembers when he administered the trial preparation to treat metastatic prostate cancer to the very first patient.

Name: Sten Nilsson
Title: Professor Emeritus at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institutet.
Age: 71
Current with: He is behind both treatments for metastatic prostate cancer, Xofigo and OsteoDex.

Sten Nilsson. Photo: Joel Nilsson

“It was with a feeling of curiosity and anticipation, mixed with the weight of the gravity of the moment, that I injected our trial preparation Radium-223 into the first ever patient. It was a man around 75 years old with greying hair. The year was 2000 and we were in the basement of Radiumhemmet where the radiotherapy was performed.  The premises were a bit rough around the edges, but I remember there was a very good atmosphere among those involved. There was a physicist who was responsible for the radioactive elements, nurses to set up the IV drip, and then the patient and I.

“I had met the patient and his wife several times before and we had discussed the risks and possibilities with the treatment. Both of them were well aware that this was a completely untested treatment, but at the time there was no other treatment available for prostate cancer that had spread to the bones. They both looked positively on giving it a try.

Four weeks later he came back and told me that he had significantly less pain in his bones and we could also observe a slowing effect in blood tests. I will never forget that special feeling when we realised that it worked.

In 2013, Radium-223 was approved as the drug Xofigo, and it is now approved in 50 countries and has been used by more than 50,000 patients to date. The effect may seem modest, with the patients living 3-4 months longer on average, but for many, this period is even longer and these months are very valuable to them. We are now developing a new treatment for metastatic prostate cancer called OsteoDex, which so far appears to also have a slowing effect.”

As told to: Fredrik Hedlund. Photo: Joel Nilsson
First published in Swedish in Medicinsk Vetenskap No 3, 2019