A new drug has shown the possibility of beating one of the world’s deadliest cancers linked to asbestos: mesothelioma.
In a trial of 38 mesothelioma patients, 94% responded to the drug which is designed to harness the body’s own immune system in order to fight the disease.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that more than 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK each year and according to the Department for Work and Pensions, 53,000 people will die from mesothelioma between 2013 and 2037.
Mesothelioma is typically fatal within one year of diagnosis, but research into potential treatments is slowly improving.
Dr Raffit Hassan, a leading expert on mesothelioma at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, USA, who led the research, said: “This is a breakthrough and these preliminary results are very exciting. [Mesothelioma] is a very hard-to-treat disease.”
During the study of the 38 patients with mesothelioma, 86% of them had a significant shrinkage of their tumours.
In almost 60% of the patients, tumours were reduced by more than 1/3 of their original size, and in 30% of patients their tumours shrank by an average of 4/5 of their original size. In one patient, the cancer had completely disappeared.
The treatment, known as CRS-207, has now been granted an orphan drug status by US drug regulators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means that the drug can be fast-tracked onto the market.
The drug is delivered in the form of an injection and is made up of a weakened, non-infectious version of the bacteria, listeria.
The bacteria are engineered to release a protein which is also present in the mesothelioma cancer cells. This triggers the immune system to kill the cancer cells along with the injected bacteria without the risk of the listeria-related illness, listeriosis.
Research shows that the same protein is also present in ovarian, stomach and pancreatic cancers, and trials are now underway to explore whether the same treatment technique could be used to treat these cancers too.