Health & Wellness

Mesothelioma Research Funding Drops During Coronavirus

Written By:
September 8, 2020
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Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
September 8, 2020

Funding for cancer research, including mesothelioma research, has significantly dropped as a result of financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mesothelioma community will be working to raise funds on Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which takes place Sept. 26.

Fundraisers and events have gone online this year to protect patient health during the pandemic. Organizers are concerned they won’t raise as much money as in previous years because of the financial impact of the pandemic and because in-person events tend to draw more support.

Cancer researchers are bracing for a severe lack of funding. Charities, nonprofits and government programs that fund cancer research are seeing a big drop in donations from public donors, industry and grant programs.

A decrease in funding will impact research for every type of cancer, and it will disproportionally impact cancers that receive comparatively less funding because of their rarity, including mesothelioma.

Some researchers wonder if funds that would have been available for cancer research will go to research COVID-19. So far this year, Congress has awarded $3.6 billion in relief packages to the National Institutes of Health to battle the virus.

Government funding for cancer research remains intact for 2020 because the National Institutes of Health received a $2.6 billion increase in funding for this year. But government funding for 2021 is at serious risk, and so is funding sourced through universities, cancer charities and nonprofits.

For example, the American Cancer Society decided not to accept grant applications for October 2020, which would have provided grants to cancer researchers starting in July 2021. The society said a significant decrease in donations during the COVID-19 pandemic dried up available funding for the next grant cycle.

Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Steps Up

Despite the financial hardships the pandemic brought, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation announced in June that it would provide $300,000 in grants to fund mesothelioma research.

These funds mean a lot to the mesothelioma community, which fights an uphill battle for recognition because mesothelioma is a rare condition. It is diagnosed in just 2,500 to 3,000 Americans annually.

Every year the community comes together on Sept. 26 to honor Mesothelioma Awareness Day and raise funds for research to find a cure for mesothelioma.

Raising money is essential to getting closer to a cure. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, which fills research gaps, awarded more than $2.8 million to mesothelioma research conducted in the U.S. and Australia.

Mesothelioma researchers already fight to get the funding they need to carry out important work toward a cure. The mesothelioma community is concerned that the drop in funding caused by the pandemic will severely set back progress for years to come.

Lung Cancer Research Helps Mesothelioma Patients

One source of hope includes advancements made through lung cancer research. In 2019, the Department of Defense awarded an estimated $14 million to lung cancer research.

Lung cancer funding far outpaces that of mesothelioma, and the mesothelioma community has benefitted from treatment innovations discovered through lung cancer research.

For example, research on the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in lung cancer patients was so successful that it led to mesothelioma clinical trials.

Many mesothelioma patients have responded so well to treatment with Keytruda that oncologists now commonly provide it to patients who qualify through compassionate use programs.

Preserving Patient Health During COVID-19

Doctors and researchers are turning to virtual mesothelioma treatment options, new clinical trial protocols and other cancer treatments to preserve patient health, carry on certain aspects of mesothelioma research and save on operating costs.

For example, telemedicine allows cancer patients to virtually attend checkups with their oncologist. It also allows clinical trial researchers to conduct virtual follow-up appointments to collect necessary data for ongoing clinical trials.

Clinical trial protocols are shifting to protect patient health. Independent clinics are now offering certain tests, such as blood tests, in smaller settings with fewer people to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Some trials involving drugs that are easily shipped allow patients to receive mesothelioma treatment from the comfort of their home without ever setting foot in a hospital.

In the U.S. and the U.K., doctors are using “COVID-friendly” cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the pandemic because they can be administered at home instead of a hospital.

The U.K.’s National Health Service approved the immunotherapy drug nivolumab (Opdivo), which can be administered at home, for mesothelioma patients in lieu of second-line chemotherapy that must be administered in a clinical setting.

Tumor Treating Fields therapy is becoming more widely available in the U.S., and it’s a therapy that can be administered at home. It is prescribed in combination with chemotherapy.

Thankfully, new safety protocols are being implemented to protect the health of cancer patients when they do need to receive treatment in a clinical setting, such as spacing out appointments and providing treatment in small clinics.

Even though funding for mesothelioma research has taken a hit during the pandemic, it hasn’t stopped families affected by mesothelioma from raising awareness or participating in fundraisers.

The mesothelioma community may not be able to gather to honor loved ones in person in 2020, but that hasn’t made their mission any less important.

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