No two patients have the exact same mesothelioma. That’s an often-used line when specialists talk about treating the disease.

If each person’s mesothelioma is unique, then shouldn’t their treatment be unique as well?

A new study at the University of California San Diego Medical Center is testing the feasibility of such a theory. The scientists are starting with personalized immunotherapy, the cornerstone of a Phase I trial running from 2018 until 2022.

Most immunotherapy clinical trials involve the participants receiving the same dosage. In this new trial, patients will get a unique vaccine tailored to their disease.

“This ‘personalized’ vaccine will use information gained from specific characteristics of your own cancer,” the clinical trial’s official page reads. “It is known that cancer has mutations (changes in genetic material) that are specific to an individual and tumor.”


Mesothelioma Treatment in 2019

Mesothelioma has limited treatment options. Surgery is the first choice, but many patients are diagnosed far too late to undergo an operation right away. Chemotherapy and radiation are often used to control and reduce the tumors’ reach in the body, with hopes for surgery in the future.

Emerging treatments like immunotherapy and virotherapy are promising, but neither is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating mesothelioma. One possible reason why the FDA is hesitant to accept them is because of harmful side effects and ineffective disease control.

According to the University of California San Diego Medical Center website, the institution may have a solution. If treatment dosage can vary from patient to patient, then that method could increase safety and reduce the tumors’ size.

The center’s website has a page dedicated to personalized cancer medicine. It states the goal is to use “advanced technological tools to predict who will respond to a specific treatment, and to match each patient with the best drug for a particular tumor.”

how immunotherapy works

Specifics of the New Immunotherapy Trial

The clinical trial’s official page states participants will receive the individualized vaccine combined with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, which is an anti-PD-1 antibody.

Pembrolizumab specifically targets the connection made between the PD-1 and PD-L1 proteins. PD-1 is a protein on T-cells, which are the immune system’s top defender against diseases.

Meanwhile, PD-L1 is a cancer-cell protein. When they bind together, the T-cells ignore the mesothelioma cells. Pembrolizumab targets these two proteins and prevents their connection, which strengthens the immune system.

To speed up the cancer-fighting process, doctors will use the personalized vaccine to deliver diseased proteins that inspire an immune system response. Using a vaccine to insert an antagonist protein into the body is an unorthodox form of virotherapy. This is not the only clinical trial combining immunotherapy and virotherapy for mesothelioma.

However, this trial is the only known ongoing study to personalize the “virotherapy” specifically to the patient’s disease. The study will analyze the vaccine’s safety when given at several time points. It’ll also “examine your blood cells for signs that the vaccine induced an immune response,” the clinical trial page reads.

Clinical trials for mesothelioma — or multiple-cancer tests that include mesothelioma — continually open. Our patient advocate and registered nurse, Jenna Campagna, can explain the process for enrolling in a study. If you want more information on the personalized treatment clinical trial or another one, send Jenna an email at

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    Sources & Author

  1. Personalized Immunotherapy in Adults With Advanced Cancers Immunotherapy in Adults With Advanced Cancers. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: Accessed: 08/21/19.
  2. Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy. UC San Diego Health. Retrieved from: Accessed: 08/21/19.
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About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.