In the vintage tic-tac-toe TV game show, The Hollywood Squares, one of the classic funny moments occurred when host Peter Marshall asks the question: “True or false—a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.”
Assuming an expression of middle-aged consternation, the late comedian George Gobel answers: “Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes.”
The joke seems funnier—or perhaps more ironical—to me now than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Experts say that benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or an enlarged prostate gland, affects most men in their 60s. As the prostate enlarges, the tissue surrounding the gland prevents it from expanding, causing the prostate to gradually press against the urethra like a pumpkin growing on a garden hose. The condition, which can result in frequent urination or difficult urination, is so common that it is said all men would get an enlarged prostate if they lived long enough.
Lars Ekman, an executive partner in Sofinnova Ventures’ San Diego office, says the condition is serious enough for 15 million men in the U.S. to seek treatment each year, with a comparable number of men in the European Union feeling a similar pressing need. Together, Ekman says they spend about $4 billion a year on a variety of treatments. That’s high, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, which put the direct costs of BPH-related medical services in U.S. hospitals and outpatient settings at $1.1 billion. Nevertheless, Ekman says it still amounts to a multi-billion dollar global market with a huge unmet need. “In the prostate there are a number of nerve endings that are related to sexual function,” he says, “and other therapies negatively affect these nerve endings.”
Ekman says he agreed to serve as the executive chairman and president of Sophiris Bio last year, as part of the specialized pharma startup’s move to San Diego from Vancouver, BC, where the company was known as Protox Therapeutics. In Canada, the company completed pre-clinical studies and related testing, which Ekman describes as “a phenomenal job of translating an idea into a real product.”
But Ekman says the Canadian team had never taken an experimental drug through clinical trials, and it was difficult to … Next Page »