New Drug to Treat Mesothelioma Hailed as a Major Breakthrough

Research & Clinical Trials

ADI-PEG20 or pegargiminase is being hailed as the first drug of its kind to be incorporated successfully with chemotherapy in 20 years. Researchers say this new drug could bring hope to thousands of mesothelioma survivors and their families. 

The drug blocks the cancer’s food supply, ensuring the disease can’t spread. It prevents cancer cells from absorbing the amino acid arginine from the bloodstream. Arginine helps the body build protein. 

Mesothelioma cells are deficient in a protein called ASS1, which allows cells to create their own arginine. If the cancer cells can’t get arginine from blood, their ability to grow and expand is hindered. 

“It’s truly wonderful to see the research into the arginine starvation of cancer cells come to fruition,” said lead researcher Dr. Peter Szlosarek, a professor at Queen Mary’s Barts Cancer Institute in London. “This discovery is something I have been driving from its earliest stages in the lab”.

Breakthrough Clinical Trial

This discovery follows a Queen Mary University of London-led trial in 5 countries. Patients from Australia, Italy, Taiwan, U.K. and the U.S. took part in the trial, which took place between 2017 and 2021. Each patient received chemotherapy every 3 weeks for up to 6 cycles. 

The final analysis included 249 pleural mesothelioma patients. During the trial, 50% of patients were also given injections of ADI-PEG20, while the other 50% received a placebo for 2 years. Results show ADI-PEG20 quadrupled 3-year survival rates. 

Those who received ADI-PEG20 and chemotherapy survived for an average of 9.3 months. Patients who received the placebo and chemotherapy survived an average of 7.7 months. 

Researchers say that ADI-PEG20 plus chemotherapy significantly increased the median overall survival 1.6 months. The combo also quadrupled the survival at 36 months compared to placebo plus chemo. 

They also noted that ADI-PEG20-based chemotherapy was well tolerated with no indication of any safety issues. The results of the trial are being published in the journal JAMA Oncology

Potential to Change Lives 

One of the men involved in the trial is a factory worker named Mick. He was exposed to asbestos in the 1970s while working in a boiler room. Soon after becoming sick in 2018, Mick was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and given only 4 months to live. He’s been involved in the trial for 2 years. 

“I’d have two injections of the new treatment — one in each arm. I didn’t have any serious side effects,” Mick says. “I met many of the other people on the trial. Over time, some of them disappeared. But I kept going.”

More than 2 years after taking part in the trial, Mick’s mesothelioma returned and he received a second round of treatment that included immunotherapy. His cancer is now under control and he recently celebrated his 80th birthday. 

“This trial has changed the lives of people with mesothelioma, allowing us to live longer,” Mick shared. “I have 5 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren now. I wouldn’t want to miss all that.”

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