Pacific Mesothelioma Center Moves Closer to Treatment Breakthrough

Research & Clinical Trials
Reading Time: 3 mins
Publication Date: 03/25/2019

Written by Tim Povtak

Stem cell research

Thoracic surgeon Dr. Robert Cameron and the Pacific Mesothelioma Center moved closer to a major treatment advance by obtaining U.S. patent approval for their novel mesenchymal stem cell research program.

The patent approval in February makes the research program more attractive to potential investors who could accelerate development and change the way malignant mesothelioma is treated.

“This is a big deal in the developmental path for MSC [mesenchymal stem cell] therapy,” Patent Adviser Dr. Walid Sabbagh told The Mesothelioma Center at “The patent is a pathway to really help these cancer patients. It becomes a platform for the future.”

Mesenchymal stem cells already are used to treat some autoimmune diseases.

The center’s research program is now testing them as a vehicle to carry molecular and gene therapies directly to the mesothelioma tumor sites.

“This cutting-edge strategy has the potential both to increase the chance of long-term survival and eliminate current treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, that come with significant side effects,” said Cameron, scientific advisor at the center and director of the UCLA Mesothelioma Program.

Killing Tumor Cells Left Behind

Cameron is a renowned pleural mesothelioma specialist who pioneered the aggressive, lung-sparing pleurectomy and decortication surgery that many of his peers across the country use today.

He also serves as chief of thoracic surgery at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center. He oversees research at the Pacific Mesothelioma Center.

Cameron believes the mesenchymal stem cell therapy could be utilized to eliminate microscopic tumor cells that typically evade a surgeon.

“After a patient undergoes surgery, much of the tumor is excised, but some cancer cells inevitably remain,” Cameron said. “To destroy the remaining cancer cells, modified mesenchymal stem cells can be delivered to the exact location… and destroy any residual cancer cells.”

Mesenchymal stem cells, which can be harvested from various tissues and marrow, are unique in their homing and migration ability when modified.

The research program with mesothelioma uses placenta-derived stem cells, which helps researchers avoid the immune system and safely deliver much-needed therapy to the site.

The stem cells also can remain in the body for an extended period, which has been a problem with other therapies.

“With many therapies today, the issue is targeting,” Sabbagh said. “Chemotherapy and radiation, for example, can be damaging to tissue all around. The holy grail is to specifically target these tumor cells. And [mesenchymal stem cells] are innately capable of that.”

Therapy Will Go Beyond Mesothelioma

The therapy also is expected to be effective with thymic malignancies and some types of lung cancer.

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute — which the Pacific Mesothelioma Center is a part of — has been studying the use of stem cells with coronary and cardiac diseases.

Stems cells have shown great potential for use with various illnesses, several cancers and even spinal cord injuries.

Because pleural mesothelioma is a rare cancer — diagnosed in less than 3,000 people in the U.S each year — research funding is often tough to find, slowing potential progress.

The U.S. patent is a step toward licensing, which could make it attractive to investors or a larger company that could benefit with a therapy breakthrough.

“If it stays on the bench, stays in the laboratory, nobody knows about it, and nobody benefits,” Sabbagh said. “The patent is a good milestone marker. The jury is still out on how long the development cycle will be. But the hope is to create an effective anti-cancer therapy.”

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