The element radium (Ra) was discovered by the Curies in 1898 and within a decade was in broad scientific testing for the management of several forms of cancer. The compound was known to give rise to a series of both high-energy particulate and penetrating γ-emissions. The latter found an important role in early 20th century brachytherapy applications, but the short-range α-particles seemed much less useful. Although highly cytotoxic when released within a few cell diameters of critical cell nuclei, the dense double-strand break damage was poorly repaired, and concerns regarding treatment-related toxicities and secondary malignancies halted clinical development. Moreover, the most common isotope of Ra has an exceptionally long half-life (>1600 years for (226)Ra) that proved daunting when aiming for a systemic cancer therapy. Fortunately, other radium isotopes have more convenient half-lives while still producing cytotoxic α particles. Radium-223 dichloride has a half-life of 11.4 days, and this isotope was identified as an excellent candidate for radionuclide therapy of cancers metastatic to bone. The calcium-mimetic chemical properties of the radium allowed intravenous infusion with rapid uptake to sites of new bone formation. The highly efficient bone localization suggested a potential therapeutic role for osteoblastic bone metastases, and a series of phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials was undertaken to explore this possibility. This series of clinical explorations culminated in the ALSYMPCA trial, an international, placebo-controlled, phase 3 study that accrued 921 symptomatic men with bone-metastatic, castrate-resistant prostate cancer. Results of this trial demonstrated a prolongation of overall survival, and regulatory agencies around the world have now approved this product as a treatment for advanced prostate cancer.
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