The American Cancer Society reports that 248,530 men contract prostate cancer every year in the United States alone. That results in more than 34,100 deaths. One in six men is at high risk to develop this form of cancer by age 85.

In 2011, Johnson & Johnson introduced a new treatment for this disease branded and sold as Zytiga. Pharmacologists call it abiraterone acetate. It is designed to treat late-stage cases of prostate cancer in combination with prednisone, a common and widely used steroid medication.

Zytiga quickly became a frontline treatment because of its demonstrated effectiveness in slowing down the rate at which prostate cancer develops. Now researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) say they have produced a significantly improved formulation of this life-saving prescription drug. Preliminary tests show the new Zytiga formulation is 40% more effective.

The breakthrough was led by medical researcher Professor Clive Prestidge. He leads the Nanostructure and Drug Delivery Group at UniSA. He said the new drug takes advantage of an oil-based formulation that is taken orally. It allows for smaller doses of Zytiga that, in turn, will have the effect of reducing side effects, such as diarrhea and swelling of the joints.

Fellow Researcher Dr. Hayley Schultz explained that many drugs that are water-based and water-soluble preparations dissolve poorly in the intestines. This results in a significant depression in effectiveness. This was the case for the original version of Zytiga. A full 90% of the drug was essentially wasted in the human gut because it could not be absorbed. That meant just 10% of the dose produced therapeutic action.

An additional drawback of Zytiga was the requirement to fast for at least two hours before taking the drug and another hour of no eating after. This was necessary to gain maximum absorption of that critical 10%. The new formulation changes all that.

The only bad news about this breakthrough is that at least two more years of clinical trials are needed before the new Zytiga can obtain FDA approval in the U.S. and from Australia’s top drug regulation agency.

Even so, the case for an oil-based Zytiga looks more than promising. Furthermore, researchers are excited because the same formulation will have application for an array of other medications that are currently water-based drugs.