Research & Clinical Trials

New Drug Shows Promise in Killing Mesothelioma Tumor Cells

Written By:
Dec 19, 2013
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
December 19, 2013

There may be help on the horizon for future pleural mesothelioma patients needing an effective, first-line systemic chemotherapy regimen that doesn’t exist

The latest laboratory breakthrough could give them a much better chance at survival.

A recently completed study of panobinostat, a new experimental drug, in combination with the standard cisplatin, showed promising results in killing mesothelioma tumor cells
without harming the healthy ones, along with eliminating the often troubling side effects.

The study, published in Genetics and Molecular Research, was conducted in
Ankara, Turkey, at Gazi University.

“None of the currently used standard treatments are acceptable for MPM ( malignant pleural mesothelioma). Studies are needed,” professor H. Ilke Onen, Ph.D.,
Department of Medical Biology & Genetics, Gazi University, told “But we found promising results for killing [mesothelioma] tumor cells.”

Still in Early Stages

Onen was quick to point out that his findings in the laboratory were just the start of what would be lengthy process in bringing a potential therapy to
market, but the initial research was eye-opening and eventually could move the medical community closer to a more effective treatment.

Pleural mesothelioma today is typically treated with a FDA-approved chemotherapy combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed, although the response has been
far from effective. The majority of mesothelioma patients undergoing treatment do not live beyond 18 months after diagnosis.

Panobinostat, which is being developed by pharmaceutical giant Novartis, has the ability to stop production of enzymes that allow mesothelioma cancer cells
to grow at the molecular level. When the expression of those enzymes is inhibited, the cancer cells are unable to spread. It has shown considerable promise
when combined with cisplatin.

“It’s too early to predict an outcome of treatment with that combination [of panobinostat and cisplatin],” Onen said. But they found “an effective cell
death response by making cells more susceptible to [cisplatin].”

Panobinostat Tested with Other Cancers

Panobinostat and cisplatin also are being tested successfully with other cancers, including multiple myeloma and lymphoma.

The combination of the two drugs, according to test results, was considerably more effective than using each drug separately. Mesothelioma cells were
unable to survive in the laboratory while the healthy cells continued to thrive.

The combination of the two drugs also did not show the same inhibited gene expression, which the authors believe would eliminate the toxic side effects
that also comes with typical systemic chemotherapy. It would allow for a much stronger dose.

“The result is a more effective removal of tumor cells,” the authors wrote in the article.

Despite the impressive study results, Onen said the laboratory results were only the first step. His research group already has moved into the second step
that would include animal models. If that phase is successful, then another clinical trial will begin using actual mesothelioma patients.

“Only if the safety of the anti-cancer agents is confirmed by these three critical steps, then patients can be treated with this new anti-cancer agent,”
Onen concluded.

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