Combination Immunotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma “Significantly Prolonged Survival” – (blog)


Two drugs are often better than one for mesothelioma patients, with a combination of the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and pemetrexed recognized as the standard of care. Now, the same may be right for immunotherapy treatment. In a new study, researchers report a combination of two cancer immunotherapy drugs “more than doubled” survival in mouse models with mesothelioma.

When researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital combined plerixafor, approved in 2008 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stimulate stem cell production prior to bone marrow transplantation, with an investigational drug VIC-008, the result significantly prolonged survival in mouse models with malignant mesothelioma, according to an April 2 press release from MGH.

“Since the advent of cancer immunotherapy, people have tried to apply immunotherapeutic drugs to mesothelioma with limited success,” says Mark Poznansky, MD, PhD, director of the MGH- Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center and senior author of the report. “We are very excited at the prospect that this drug combination may be much more effective in prolonging patients‘ lives.”

According to the researchers, mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer, is extremely hard to treat and survival is usually 12 to 18 month after diagnosis. In an effort to increase mesothelioma survival, the researchers turned to VIC-008, initially developed to treat ovarian cancer. The unique combination of proteins target mesothelin, a protein overexpressed in mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. When used alone, VIC-008 was not strong enough to combat regulatory T cells.

But, they found that the addition of plerixafor, known for its ability to stop the spread of tumors, shifted the characteristics of the regulator T cells to “helper T cells,” which enhanced antitumor effects. They found the combination “significantly reduced tumor size and prolonged the animals’ survival.”

“The apparent ability to change immunosuppressive T cells within the tumor into T cell types that are more active and potentially helpful against cancer was a really exciting finding, and one that we’re continuing to investigate,” says Poznansky.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, rare cancer that often leaves oncologists stymied when looking for the most effective treatment for patients. Although the cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery, there is still no cure for the disease. Immunotherapy is beginning to show benefits in mesothelioma patients, but continued research is critical to increase survival and quality of life for patients.

Find the results of the study in the April 6 edition of  Cancer Immunology Research.

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