Scientists around the world are striving to develop more effective treatment options for mesothelioma.
The asbestos-related cancer has a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent. Most patients live around one year after diagnosis.
Developing better treatments to control the cancer is necessary. Researchers are working on a number of options.
Some of these options involve new immunotherapy drugs, innovative methods of drug delivery and different combinations of treatments.
This research is being conducted at some of the nation’s best cancer centers. For example, Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center is developing photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma, while Stanford University School of Medicine is working on stem cell therapy.
These promising breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. It takes years of research and development to get these treatments tested and proven through clinical trials.
It also takes participants. The more mesothelioma patients who volunteer to join clinical trials, the closer we come to controlling or one day curing the cancer.
Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma
In June 2017, promising results from a phase II clinical trial were published by French researchers. Out of 108 mesothelioma patients, approximately half responded well to combination therapy with nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy).
That high response rate is unusual in mesothelioma research.
Researchers were so shocked by the results that they designed a phase III trial to continue testing the drug combination in a larger group of patients. It could become the first immunotherapy regimen approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat mesothelioma.
Pembrolizumab, otherwise known as Keytruda, is another immunotherapy drug showing promise in mesothelioma research.
In a 2017 study by Penn Medicine, tumors shrank in 14 of 25 pleural mesothelioma patients taking Keytruda. The overall survival of the patients was 18 months, compared to 12 months for patients treated only with chemotherapy.
Using Nanocells to Deliver Treatment
Australian researchers introduced a new therapy for mesothelioma in 2015 that put one patient nearly into full remission.
Partial or full remission is rarely reported among people with mesothelioma, which indicates the potential of this research.
The study involved nanocells, which are derived from bacteria and modified to serve as a delivery vehicle for anti-cancer treatments.
The anti-cancer treatment used in this phase I study involved microRNA, which is genetic material similar to DNA. The microRNA used in the study stimulates the immune system to attack mesothelioma tumors.
Researchers did not expect to see such a positive response in the phase I study. Research is continuing into further phases.
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Clinical trials are investigating photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma in combination with surgery.
The preliminary results indicate photodynamic therapy can kill remaining cancer cells left behind after surgery. This can reduce the risk of local cancer recurrence and help patients live longer.
Researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center have led important studies on photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma in recent years. They are currently recruiting for a phase II clinical trial combining photodynamic therapy with surgery and chemotherapy.
Mesothelin is a protein and antigen made by mesothelioma cancer cells. Researchers are developing drugs that target mesothelin to kill mesothelioma cells and leave healthy cells unharmed.
Mesothelin-targeting drugs under development include:
Stem Cell Vaccine for Mesothelioma
The Stanford University School of Medicine is developing a stem cell vaccine as a treatment option for mesothelioma. Their research is currently being conducted on mice.
The hope is stem cells may be used to prevent and treat mesothelioma.
People with a history of asbestos exposure might be able to take the vaccine to prevent mesothelioma. The vaccine might also help mesothelioma patients live longer by controlling cancer growth.
While many of these breakthroughs are in early phases of testing, the research conducted today is paving the way for treatments of tomorrow.