Is there a cure for mesothelioma? And if not, will there ever be one? These two questions are some of the biggest facing researchers, doctors and patients.
The answer to the first question might be discouraging for patients to hear, but the answer to the second one is now more hopeful than ever before.
There is not a cure for mesothelioma cancer – yet. Progress has been made recently, though, in developing cures for other types of cancer. Researchers and other scientists are looking at immunotherapy, gene therapy and a combination of sciences to see if there’s a way to stop cancer.
Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma
Immunotherapy is the latest treatment to gain traction for mesothelioma. The FDA has approved a combination of two immunotherapy drugs, Opdivo and Yervoy.
Opdivo and Yervoy are not a cure for mesothelioma, but they’re helping more patients live for longer. The median survival is about 18 months for patients receiving these two immunotherapies. This is an improvement from patients receiving chemotherapy.
Opdivo and Yervoy may be a cure when combined with other novel therapies, such as CAR T-ell therapy. The effectiveness of these two therapies increases when paired with other immunotherapies.
Other immunotherapy drugs have curative potential:
- Oncolytic viruses
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Dendritic cell therapy
Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma
Gene therapy involves changing the genetics of cancer cells or immune cells to either strengthen the immune system or make cancer more vulnerable.
There are a few types of gene therapy for mesothelioma. A lot of these types are based on specific genes associated to the development of mesothelioma cancer:
There are three main types of mesothelioma gene therapy: blocking cancerous genes or associated proteins; adding genes to help the immune system; and fixing or deleting mutated genes in cancer cells.
An example is tazemetostat, which blocks the EZH2 gene in mesothelioma. Approximately two-thirds of people in a phase 2 clinical trial had a positive response to this therapy.
Another example of gene therapy is TR002, which is a non-active viral vector that delivers a gene to the site of the cancer. The gene increases the levels of the interferon alpha-2b protein, which elevates immune responses to cancer. The majority of patients’ cancer were controlled initially by the TR002 gene therapy.
CAR T-cell Therapy for Mesothelioma
CAR T-cell therapy is an emerging type of immunotherapy where patients’ own T cells are reprogrammed to find and kill cancer cells. This type of immunotherapy is called cell and gene therapy, as it involves altering the genetics of natural immune cells.
CAR T-cell therapy for mesothelioma is growing in popularity. A few clinical trials are underway testing this new immunotherapy for mesothelioma. The FDA is also helping hospitals and researchers advance CAR T-cell therapy for mesothelioma patients.
CAR T-cell Therapy Curing Some Patients With Blood Cancers
The FDA has approved CAR T-cell therapy for blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Just recently, a few blood cancer patients from the early CAR T-cell therapy clinical trials have reached 10 years of survival. Some doctors are calling these patients “cured” and other patients are reporting full remissions with no signs of the cancer returning years after treatment.
This is proof that some cancer patients are being cured thanks to this new science.
When will there be a similar cure for mesothelioma? And what therapies might be the long-awaited cure?
Can CAR T-cell Therapy Cure Mesothelioma?
CAR T-cell therapy involves removing patients’ T cells and adding a chimeric protein receptor to the surface of the cells. This new receptor trains the T cells to look for cancer proteins with an associated protein.
The protein that often distinguishes mesothelioma cells and healthy cells is mesothelin. Most cases of mesothelioma produce higher amounts of the mesothelin protein than healthy tissue. So the approach to CAR T-cell therapy for mesothelioma is to engineer a protein receptor targeting mesothelin.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center held a phase 1 study for mesothelin-targeted CAR T cells. The median survival for 18 patients with various cancers, including mesothelioma, was two years.
How You Can Help Find a Cure for Mesothelioma
While there is no cure for mesothelioma yet, there are possibilities in research, development and testing. Clinical trials are underway to explore cell therapies, gene therapies and immunotherapies. All of these are highly likely to improve survival for select patients, and they might be the magic bullet that cures cancers like mesothelioma.
If you have mesothelioma, your best chance to benefit from these novel therapies is through clinical trials. These studies offer patients the first opportunities to receive this groundbreaking science.
Your participation also helps test therapies and determine if they’ll help a larger patient population. More clinical trial participants are needed for all sorts of novel treatments. Please contact our patient advocate, Karen Ritter, a registered nurse who can help you find ongoing mesothelioma clinical trials. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for direct contact with her.
Sources & Author
- A phase I trial of regional mesothelin-targeted CAR T-cell therapy in patients with malignant pleural disease, in combination with the anti-PD-1 agent pembrolizumab. Cancer Discovery. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34266984/. Accessed: 07/19/2021.
- Safety and efficacy of tazemetostat, an enhancer of zeste-homolog 2 inhibitor, in patients with relapsed or refractory malignant mesothelioma. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from:
https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2020.38.15_suppl.9058. Accessed: 07/02/2020.
Sources & Author