Merck Mesothelioma Drug Zolinza Fails in Phase III of Clinical Trial

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An experimental chemotherapy treatment being investigated for benefits to pleural mesothelioma patients recently failed a Phase III trial after not achieving the required clinical significance.

The drug, Vorinostat, manufactured and marketed by Merck as Zolinza, is a treatment normally used for cancer of the immune system. Researchers had hoped the drug would improve overall survival for mesothelioma patients.

This Phase III trial was listed as the largest of its kind for advanced mesothelioma cases. As the drug did achieve statistical significance in improving progression-free survival, it did not pass the clinical benchmark that would allow it to proceed beyond this phase.

“Unfortunately, there was no benefit with regard to overall survival compared with placebo,” said Lee Krug, M.D., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Krug recently reported the study’s findings at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress.

According to reports, 660 patients participated in the clinical trial across 92 sites. Krug stated that there were no differences in response rate or survival benefits among the test group and placebo group.

In this trial, Vorinostat aimed to be a chemotherapy treatment option for patients with pleural mesothelioma who already received treatment through another chemotherapy drug known as pemetrexed.

For those who are burdened with this rare yet fatal cancer, they will have to wait for additional treatment options that pass all of the related clinical testing and regulations.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are reported each year in the United States, with an average survival rate of about a year after diagnosis. Krug predicts that the number of mesothelioma cases will peak between the years of 2015 and 2020. Because mesothelioma develops from asbestos exposure and the use of asbestos has significantly declined since the 1970s, his predication aligns with the 20-50 year latency period often associated with the cancer.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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