There are currently only two FDA-approved drugs used to treat mesothelioma. The rarity of the disease has made it hard for researchers to find more effective drugs because the opportunities to test new drugs is limited by the number of patients with mesothelioma.
The platform for developing treatments for mesothelioma almost always starts with drugs used to treat other cancers and illnesses. Alimta is the only commonly used treatment specifically designed with mesothelioma in mind. More recently, several novel drugs have been developed with mesothelioma in mind, which is a huge step in the right direction. However, many treatments being researched are still those that have shown to be effective in other diseases first.
Some of these treatments seem obvious, while others are more peculiar, but they all have one thing in common: they weren’t initially meant to treat mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma patients and those with high cholesterol fall into a similar demographic, older men. It is logical to assume many mesothelioma patients were on some form of cholesterol-reducing drug, known as statins, when they were diagnosed with their disease. Eventually doctors started noticing it’s effects.
The drug simvastatin is designed to reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. Apparently simvastatin may also have an effect on cell death in mesothelioma tumors as well. A study released in early August showed that tumors treated with a combination of Alimta and simvastatin had increased “apoptotic activity.” Translation: it killed more mesothelioma cells than Alimta alone.
However, the effectiveness of statins as a mesothelioma treatment is currently hanging in the balance due to skepticism surrounding the treatment.
Leukemia and Red Wine
Clofarabine is a drug developed to treat childhood leukemia. It is primarily used in patients whose disease has relapsed. Recently, however, it has been discovered that it may have an effect on mesothelioma when the drug is combined with resveratrol, a chemical prevalent in red wine. The synergistic effect of this compound is causing optimism amongst some researchers, but the treatment is still far away from clinical trials.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Another surprising drug that has shown a benefit to mesothelioma patients is a drug used to treat alcoholism. Alcoholism affects millions of Americans across the country, and back in the 1950’s, the drug disulfiram, more commonly recognized as Antabuse, was developed to help those with alcohol addiction abstain from their vice. When taken, the drug causes the patient to become violently ill if they decide to indulge in a drink.
Oddly enough, the drug has been shown to have a similar effect to statins in that it induces cell death of cancerous cells. The predominant benefit of disulfiram for mesothelioma patients is that this drug has little to no side effects. Cancer treatments are infamous for their negative side effects, but this decades old treatment has been used in those with alcohol addiction without much of a reaction. Patients just have to make sure they don’t forget to lay off the drink.
Therapy for Skin Cancer and Acne
Photodynamic therapy is on the verge of becoming common form of treatment for mesothelioma. Recent clinical trials have started recruiting participants en masse due to the success of early phase trials in extending survival times.
This treatment uses a drug that makes light fatal to cells that absorb it. Luckily, cancerous cells have a predilection to absorb more of the drug. Doctors then apply laser light to the tumor region and many cancer cells are wiped out. However, PDT was developed primarily to treat surface malignancies like skin cancer and sever acne.
The location of mesothelioma tumors makes it essentially impossible for light to reach tumors in the chest. Skin cancer is easy to treat with PDT because cancer cells are mostly in the outer layers of the skin. The solution has been to apply this treatment during surgery when light can be applied directly to the tumor.
There are many treatments that could eventually prove to extend the life of mesothelioma patients. There are gene therapy and immunotherapy treatments underway in clinical trials for mesothelioma right now that are being tested based on their success in diseases like leukemia. Most clinical trials start out like the treatments above, and every treatment that becomes standard ultimately starts out as a clinical trial. There’s no telling what kind of treatment could emerge, or where its origins will be, but clinical trials are always a great way for patients to expand their treatment options.