A recent study published in The Lancet Oncology has revealed that the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab may be an effective 2nd line treatment for mesothelioma. Pembrolizumab is the generic name for the drug Keytruda. It has been used as a second-line therapy for mesothelioma patients.

Combating Mesothelioma with Pembrolizumab

Pembrolizumab is typically used to treat cancers such as: melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and head and neck cancers. However, the drug has shown great tolerance in combatting antitumor activity in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Immunotherapy drugs use certain aspects of a patient’s immune system to fight their disease. Instead of attacking the cancer cells, like many immunotherapy drugs do, pembrolizumab blocks the protein that the cancer cells use to suppress the immune system.

Key Terms:

  • T-Cell: A type of white blood cell that is an important part of the immune system. These are like the immune system’s “soldiers.”
  • PD-1: The receptor on the surface of T-Cells that absorbs PD-L1. Pembrolizumab works by blocking this receptor.
  • PD-L1: A protein that cancer cells use to subdue the immune system so they can continue growing uncontrollably.

By blocking the PD-1 receptor, pembrolizumab helps activate a patient’s immune system and aids in destroying cancerous cells. Once pembrolizumab binds with PD-1, T cells are able to destroy the mesothelioma cells throughout a patient’s body.

Recent Study Breakdown

The recent study for the drug pembrolizumab consisted of 25 pleural mesothelioma patients. All of the patients in the study had already received first-line chemotherapy or they were unable to receive it. Patients were given a dose of pembrolizumab every 2 weeks for 2 years.

In 14 of the patients involved in the study, it was discovered the drug had significantly reduced their cancer. It was also noted that many of the patients went 6 months without having their cancer progress, with an overall survival of 18 months.

Researchers believe that combining a second-line therapy along with first-line chemotherapy, can help improve the life expectancy of patients.

Dr. Evan Alley - Mesothelioma Specialist The lead author of the study, Dr. Evan Alley, who is the chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Penn Presbyterian Hospital commented, “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.”

During the study patients reported symptoms of:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth

None of the side effects that were experienced during the study were to a degree that made any participant quit the trial.This gives both researchers and patients hope in continuing the use of the drug to combat mesothelioma.

Later this year, the use of pembrolizumab will be used in conjunction with other treatments that are currently available. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have announced that they have plans for 2 new trials to test the drug.

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    Sources & Author

  1. Pembrolizumab May Help Combat Mesothelioma. Oncology Nurse Advisor. Retrieved from: http://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/lung-cancer/checkpoint-inhibitor-shows-antitumor-activity-in-mesothelioma/article/648001/. Accessed: 4/12/17.
  2. First Approved Drug to Show Promise Against Mesothelioma. labroots. Retrieved from: https://www.labroots.com/trending/cancer/5678/approved-drug-promise-mesothelioma. Accessed: 4/12/17.
  3. What is cancer immunotherapy?. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html. Accessed: 4/12/17.
  4. Clinical safety and activity of pembrolizumab in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma (KEYNOTE-028): preliminary results from a non-randomised, open-label, phase 1b trial. PubMed. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28291584. Accessed: 4/13/17.
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About the Writer, Nicole Godfrey

Nicole Godfrey is the Senior Content Writer for Mesothelioma Guide. She writes and edits pages to make sure that mesothelioma patients and their families receive the most current and significant information about mesothelioma.