Aiming at the development of new drugs for the treatment of prostate cancer, the effects of steroidal compounds and one non-steroidal substance on androgen biosynthesis were evaluated in vitro and in vivo. Sa 40 [17-(5-pyrimidyl)androsta-5,16-diene-3beta-ol], its 3-acetyl derivate Sa 41 and BW 19 [3,4-dihydro-2-(4-imidazolylmethyl)-6-methoxy-1-methyl-naphthalene] are compounds from our group, which have been developed as inhibitors of CYP 17 (17alpha-hydroxylase-C17, 20-lyase, the key enzyme in androgen biosynthesis). They have been compared with CB 7598 [abiraterone: 17-(3-pyridyl)androsta-5,16-diene-3beta-ol], its 3-acetyl compound CB 7630 and ketoconazole, compounds which already have been used clinically. The most potent compound toward human CYP 17 (testicular microsomes) was Sa 40 (IC(50) value of 24 nM), followed by Sa 41, CB 7598, BW 19, CB 7630 and ketoconazole. Sa 40 shows a type II difference spectrum and a non-competitive type of inhibition (K(i) value of 16 nM). No recovery of enzyme activity was observed after preincubation of CYP 17 with Sa 40 and subsequent charcoal treatment. In Escherichia coli cells coexpressing human CYP 17 and NADPH-P450 reductase, Sa 40 was more active than CB 7598 and BW 19, whereas the acetyl compounds were not active. The latter three compounds were equally active towards rat CYP 17. Male Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats were administered daily for 14 days BW 19 and the acetyl derivatives Sa 41 and CB 7630 as prodrugs (0.1 mmol/kg intraperitoneally). The test compounds strongly reduced plasma testosterone concentration, as well as prostate and seminal vesicles weights. They showed moderate inhibitory effects on the weights of levator ani, bulbocavernosus and testes, whereas they led to an increase in adrenal and pituitary weights. The only exception was BW 19 which did not change pituitary weights. Based on its superiority on the human enzyme, it was concluded that Sa 40 in its 3beta-acetate form (Sa 41) could be a promising candidate for clinical evaluation.