Pembrolizumab Brings Hope for Mesothelioma Victims

Until recently there was very little hope for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is primarily caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. It can affect the lungs (pleural) and abdomen (peritoneal). It is a rare form of cancer often considered a death sentence and while treatment is available to help patients live more comfortably, no cure exists and life expectancy is rarely more than one year. A recent development in the pharmaceutical industry could change that. Pembrolizumab has been shown to halt tumor growth in more than one-third of patients suffering from pleural mesothelioma in a recent medical study. The drug is a PD-1 inhibitor cancer immunotherapy drug and is so far impressing researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The findings from the study were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in April 2015.

Pembrolizumab Shows Promising Results in Study

The study was led by an international team that included scientists from the United States, United Kingdom, and throughout Europe. Of the 25 participants in the study, seven experienced shrinkage of their tumor and 12 patients experienced an all-out halt of tumor growth. In four of the patients tumor growth progressed and two remained unassessed. None of the patients had to stop treatment because of side effects caused by the drug. All 25 study participants had already received standard and first-line therapy or were unable to receive any treatment before participating in the trial. Standard and first-line treatment for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The FDA has yet to approve any treatment for malignant mesothelioma that has progressed following standard treatment and in previous attempts, responses to second-line treatments show a less than 10% effect rate.

Hope on the Horizon

The FDA approved pembrolizumab in September 2014 for treating metastatic melanoma. The drug targets programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), which helps regulate immunity and prevent the activation of T-cells. Cancer patients often experience autoimmune disorders that produce antibodies that attack the body’s own tissue, but preventing these diseases means providing an opportunity for cancer cells to grow. These new PD-1 inhibitors activate the immune system to attack cancer tumors without putting a person at risk for other health problems. Additional research and clinical trials are necessary to determine if pembrolizumab will be approved for treating mesothelioma, but hopes are high. In addition to immunotherapy like pembrolizumab, gene therapy and photodynamic therapies, as well as the drugs Endostatin and Lovastatin, and Intrapleural interferon gamma are also being investigated to determine their success in treating mesothelioma. References: Previous: Michigan Asbestos Mishandling Leads to Convictions Next: Families Continue to Recover from the Mr Fluffy Buyback Program