APR 01, 2017 2:08 PM PDT

First Approved Drug to Show Promise Against Mesothelioma

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

A cancer antibody is showing promising results against mesothelioma, one of the most lethal silent cancers. The antibody is known as pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and works as a second-line immunotherapy agent to destroy the cancer. Researchers say this is the first approved drug to show effectiveness against mesothelioma.

Image: firstwessex.com

As one of the most aggressive cancer types, mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung. Uniquely, this cancer is caused by exposure to manmade products containing the carcinogen asbestos. When breathed into the lungs, asbestos fibers get trapped and cause scarring and inflammation, triggering serious health conditions like mesothelioma. Though rare nowadays in the US, cases of mesotheliomas are still rampant in other parts of the world due to unregulated use of materials containing asbestos. The disease has a poor prognosis, with less than one-year survival rates after diagnosis.

"There have been a lot of studies looking at different drugs, but researchers have not seen positive results. But we've found this new class of drugs, checkpoint inhibitors, seems to be more effective than what's been available in the past,” said Dr. Evan Alley, a medical oncology specialist at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, and the study’s lead author.

In a study of 25 patients with mesothelioma who were given pembrolizumab every 2 weeks for 2 years, the team observed significant changes in cancer progression. This included tumor shrinkage in 14 of the patients. The average survival time was extended to 18 month, of which the first 6 months seem to show no progression of cancer.

"Most patients who receive a second-line therapy have a life expectancy of about 6 or 7 months, so to have four patients still ongoing at 2 years is very encouraging,” said Dr. Alley.

Pembrolizumab targets the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor, a protein that’s responsible for preventing the immune system from attacking its own cells. Cancers can take advantage of this system by making its own proteins that bind to PD-1, which shuts down the body’s ability to kill the cancer. As an immunotherapy, pembrolizumab boosts the body’s ability to kill the cancer again. The drug is already approved for the treatment of several other types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, and some head and neck cancers.

While promising, the results of this study are limited by the small sample size. More validation studies are necessary to confirm the anticancer effects of pembrolizumab against mesothelioma. But as it is, chemotherapy as a first-line defense, and pembrolizumab as a second-line defense seems to be a promising strategy.

“This study provides evidence that some patients can have long-term disease control with this drug, which we haven't seen before. We need to better understand what we can do next to make immunotherapy more effective for more patients,” said Dr. Alley.

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUN 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
JUN 16, 2021
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer is the deadliest, and it can happen years after cancer has been treated to the point of remission. Met ...
JUN 12, 2021
Cancer
Using astronomy to image cancer tumors
JUN 12, 2021
Using astronomy to image cancer tumors
In an interdisciplinary breakthrough, a recent study published in Science describes the development of a new platform, d ...
JUN 15, 2021
Cancer
Red seaweed consumption is associated with a low risk of colon cancer - but why?
JUN 15, 2021
Red seaweed consumption is associated with a low risk of colon cancer - but why?
New research published in Marine Drugs explains why diets high in red seaweed are associated with a low risk of col ...
JUL 16, 2021
Cancer
Exercise Slows Growth of Bowel Cancer Cells
JUL 16, 2021
Exercise Slows Growth of Bowel Cancer Cells
Exercise releases molecules into the bloodstream that reduce the growth of bowel cancer cells, say researchers from the ...
AUG 07, 2021
Cancer
New Drug Combo Eliminates Pancreatic Cancer in Mice
AUG 07, 2021
New Drug Combo Eliminates Pancreatic Cancer in Mice
A combination of three immunotherapy drugs can eliminate pancreatic tumors in mice. The study was published in Canc ...
SEP 16, 2021
Technology
Scientists Create Tiny Replicas Of The Pancreas To Study New Drugs
SEP 16, 2021
Scientists Create Tiny Replicas Of The Pancreas To Study New Drugs
Pancreatic cancer it’s often hard to diagnose in its early stages, resulting in patients having more advanced canc ...
Loading Comments...