Two recently approved therapies for mesothelioma may soon team up in a study.

Novocure, the manufacturer of the tumor treating fields device NovoTTF-100L, announced a partnership with Merck, the manufacturer of the popular immunotherapy drug Keytruda. The two leaders in oncology will collaborate on a non-small cell lung cancer clinical trial.

If that goes well, the next step might be a mesothelioma study.

Keytruda, the brand name for pembrolizumab, received approval early in 2020 from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for specific pleural mesothelioma cases. The treatment is available for patients who express high levels of PD-L1, the cancerous protein that Keytruda can neutralize.

The NovoTTF-100L System device, which was rebranded as Optune Lua, passed the FDA’s rigorous approval test in 2019. It was the first FDA approval for mesothelioma in 15 years. Optune Lua is available for pleural mesothelioma patients who cannot undergo surgery. It was approved to be combined with chemotherapy.

If you have mesothelioma and want to learn more about either therapy, reach out to our registered nurse and patient advocate, Jenna Campagna. She can also provide details on clinical trials for mesothelioma, giving you potential access to emerging treatment combinations that could significantly improve your prognosis. Email her at jenna@mesotheliomaguide.com.

 

How the Optune Lua Tumor Treating Fields Device Works

Optune Lua sends low-intensity electric waves through the cancer location in your body. Cancer cells are sensitive to these fields, which are tuned to specific frequencies. The waves disrupt cell division, prevent the tumors from growing and eventually cause the cells to die. Patients barely feel the waves initially, and they eventually grow accustomed to them.

Pleural mesothelioma patients wear the device on their chest for most of the day and night. They can even sleep with the device, which is another reason why Optune Lua is one of the least invasive therapies for mesothelioma.

Not only is the device easy and safe to use, but the life expectancy and survival results for mesothelioma patients are exceptional. The median overall survival from one study was 18.2 months. Nearly two-thirds were alive after one year, which is a much better rate than chemotherapy on its own.

Since its FDA approval just one year ago, the Optune Lua device is offered at hospitals across the country. The number of institutions with access to this treatment continues to grow.

 

How Keytruda Prolongs Survival for Mesothelioma Patients

Keytruda is the brand name for pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitor drug. Keytruda explicitly stifles the connection between two protein receptors: PD-1 on the body’s cancer-fighting T-cells; and PD-L1 on mesothelioma cells.

When these protein receptors connect, T-cells ignore mesothelioma cells in their quest to locate diseases and protect the body. Keytruda breaks or blocks the connection, which aids the immune system’s natural defenses.

In a recent study, 34% of mesothelioma patients with high levels of PD-L1 survived for two years thanks to Keytruda. Nearly 20% had progression-free survival (meaning their disease did not grow or spread) for two years.

 

Why the Combination Could Work for Mesothelioma

The non-small cell lung cancer study is a phase 2 trial explicitly for PD-L1-positive patients. It’ll enroll up to 66 participants and begin before the end of 2020. The researchers will examine the response rate, overall survival, progression-free survival and disease-control rate.

William Doyle, the executive chairman of Novocure, said that scientific studies “suggest that the use of tumor treating fields together with an anti-PD-1 therapy can potentially augment the immune response, resulting in improved tumor control.”

Non-small cell lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma are similar in numerous ways. First, the two cancers develop in the same general region: pleural mesothelioma in the thin tissue lining between the lungs and chest (the pleura); non-small cell lung cancer in the tissue of the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma can spread to the lungs, and treatment sometimes involves removing a lung.

The two diseases also resemble one another. Adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer. Doctors often confuse it and pleural mesothelioma when looking at scans.

They’re also linked to the same culprit: asbestos. Inhaling or swallowing loose, sharp asbestos fragments can lead to cellular irritation, either on lung tissue or in the pleura. Asbestos is the only known cause of pleural mesothelioma, and it is one of multiple potential reasons for non-small cell lung cancer.

The similarities between the two cancers suggest that a Keytruda-Optune Lua combination could also work for mesothelioma. If the non-small cell lung cancer trial is a success, then the partnership’s scope should expand.

Doyle hinted at the possibility of testing the pairing on more cancer types. He called the collaboration an “important combination study as we strive to extend survival in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.”

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Devin Goldan image

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.

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    Devin Golden

    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.