The Search for a Mesothelioma Cure: New Treatment Options

There is no cure for mesothelioma, but new therapies are improving survival rates. Some of these therapies are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

written

Written by Jenna Campagna, RN

fact

Fact Checked

popout

Important Facts About New Mesothelioma Treatments and a Mesothelioma Cure

  • Immunotherapy is a new mesothelioma treatment receiving a lot of attention. Three immunotherapy drugs are FDA-approved for unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma.
  • A tumor treating fields device called Optune Lua is FDA-approved for malignant pleural mesothelioma.
  • Other potential answers to the mesothelioma cure are virotherapy, gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.
  • Clinical trials are the best way to investigate the benefits of new treatments for mesothelioma.

Top New Mesothelioma Treatments

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are mainstays for mesothelioma treatment. They’re widely regarded as effective cancer therapies and offered at most top cancer centers.

Immunotherapy is the top new mesothelioma treatment. Researchers believe in specific immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors. They enhance the immune system to fight mesothelioma.

Other top new mesothelioma treatments are:

  • Virotherapy
  • Tumor treating fields
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Gene therapy

Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Mesothelioma immunotherapy strengthens the body’s immune system. There are two approaches to immunotherapy.

The first is active immunotherapy, which uses medication to enhance the immune system. The other is passive immunotherapy, which adds laboratory-created proteins to what the body is currently lacking.

Checkpoint inhibitors and oncolytic viruses are types of active immunotherapy. Adoptive cell therapy and monoclonal antibodies are versions of passive immunotherapy.

The FDA approved Opdivo and Yervoy for mesothelioma. The acceptance requires both drugs to be used together and only for “unresectable” pleural mesothelioma.

These two drugs are immune checkpoint inhibitors. Keytruda, another checkpoint inhibitor, is approved for a small group of cases with high tumor burden. No other immunotherapy drugs are approved by the FDA for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Virotherapy

Mesothelioma virotherapy uses viruses to fight cancer. Researchers harness the power of viruses by modifying them to be safe for healthy cells.

The idea for virotherapy developed more than a century ago. Doctors observed cancers shrinking in patients who were infected with a virus.

In 1896, a 42-year-old woman with leukemia went into remission after catching the flu. In 1974, the Mumps virus helped 41% of cancer patients have either complete regression or significant disease shrinking.

There are three types of virotherapy for mesothelioma:

  • Oncolytic viruses attack cancer cells by breaking them up internally.
  • Viral immunotherapy infects cancer cells to stimulate an immune system response.
  • Viral vectors serve as transports or carriers for other therapies.

ONCOS-102 is the mesothelioma virotherapy treatment with the most momentum. ONCOS-102 is an oncolytic virus that also stimulates the immune system, making it a form of multimodal therapy. The FDA gave it fast-track designation, which means it’ll receive priority for reviews in the approval process.

Tumor Treating Fields for Mesothelioma

Tumor treating fields are an innovative cancer therapy combined with chemotherapy. The wearable device sends electric waves through the body. These waves disrupt cell division and cause diseased cells to die.

The FDA approved the NovoTTF-100L, now called Optune Lua, for unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma. It is classified as a Humanitarian Use Device, which is for diseases affecting 8,000 or fewer people in the United States. Malignant pleural mesothelioma meets this criteria.

Mesothelioma Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy utilizes light-reactive chemicals in drugs called photosensitizers. When light activates these chemicals, oxygen is released that kills nearby cancer cells. Photosensitizer drugs are administered intravenously and are absorbed by cancer cells.

The increased oxygen can prevent the formation of blood vessels, which limits nutrients for tumors. This halts the tumors’ growth as cells don’t get the nutrients needed to thrive.

Photodynamic therapy kills mesothelioma cells and weakens tumors, which makes them more susceptible to chemotherapy or radiation. Some side effects include rashes and sensitivity to light.

Mesothelioma Gene Therapy

Mesothelioma gene therapy sends a laboratory-altered or lab-created gene into the patient’s body. Gene therapy can restructure flawed cancer cells’ genes, add cancer-fighting genes, or block cancerous genes.

Doctors deliver gene therapy drugs through viral vectors or bacteria. As healthy DNA enters the disease site, dysfunctional genes become functional or the body produces cancer-fighting proteins (like “interferon alpha-2b protein”). These proteins lead to an immune reaction.

Dr. Daniel Sterman is a believer in the power of gene therapy for mesothelioma. He hopes doctors can take mesothelioma “from a death sentence to a chronic disease that a patient can live with for years.”

SMART

SMART for mesothelioma is an innovative multimodal treatment protocol offered at select cancer centers in North America. SMART is an acronym for “surgery for mesothelioma after radiation therapy.”

The multimodal therapy approach gives radiation therapy to patients a few days before aggressive surgery. SMART is for malignant pleural mesothelioma and is not intended for peritoneal mesothelioma.

Most cancer centers give patients radiation therapy after surgery. Doctors at Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto created the idea of SMART. Michigan Medicine is the first U.S. institution to offer the multimodal approach to treating mesothelioma.

Clinical Trials and Future Emerging Treatments

Clinical trials explore many of these emerging therapies to test different combinations and new drugs. These studies offer mesothelioma patients an opportunity to receive immunotherapy, gene therapy or virotherapy drugs not available at any general hospital or even most mesothelioma cancer centers.

When qualifying for a clinical trial, a potential candidate must reach some determinants, such as a specified age or gender as well as have certain health requirements and it may be dependent on their mesothelioma type and stage.

Our patient advocates can help you apply for a mesothelioma clinical trial. We’ll work to find one near your residence. We’ll also explore options to pay for travel costs to expand the trials you may join. These studies are the best hope of finding a mesothelioma cure, and you can play a part in finding the answer to this cancer.

Common Questions About the Search for a Mesothelioma Cure

blue box icon

Is there a medical cure for mesothelioma?

There isn’t a cure for mesothelioma — at least not yet. Research is ongoing to test new therapies against this cancer. Some new treatment options help slow the cancer’s growth. The hope is a therapy or combination of therapies can kill the cancer quickly and decisively.

blue box icon

What are some of the new treatment options for mesothelioma?

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have been used for decades as mesothelioma treatment options. In the last few years, immunotherapy has emerged as a viable replacement to chemotherapy. Other new therapies include:

blue box icon

What other promising information is available about a potential mesothelioma cure?

Doctors are testing different combinations of therapies, including changing up the order that patients receive them. For example, some hospitals administer radiation therapy before surgery. Other studies test immunotherapy and surgery together.

Sources & Author

Jenna Campagna image

About the Writer, Jenna Campagna, RN

Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and patient advocate who is passionate about helping mesothelioma patients navigate their health care. She has over seven years of experience working with patients diagnosed with rare diseases including mesothelioma. Jenna is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators and her goal is to connect patients to top mesothelioma specialists, treatment facilities, and clinical trials. Through her writing, she aims to simplify the complicated journey through mesothelioma by offering helpful tips and advice.