A Chance at Longer Life with Mesothelioma

April 30, 2021  |  Mesothelioma
Test Will Predict Patient Response to Asbestos Cancer Therapy

Test Will Predict Patient Response to Asbestos Cancer Therapy

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelial lining of certain organs in the body, including the lungs, heart and abdomen. The cause of malignant mesothelioma is exclusively from the inhalation or ingestion of microscopic particles of the mineral asbestos.

A vicious disease

Malignant mesothelioma is considered to be one of the most lethal and hard-to-treat cancers in existence. The disease is notoriously resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. The irregular shape and location of mesothelioma tumors can make them difficult to remove surgically. There is no cure. Patients with malignant mesothelioma relapse following treatment almost one hundred percent of the time and most die 12 to 18 months after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Only eight percent are still alive five years later.

Studies have shown that long-term and continued exposure to asbestos significantly increases the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, short-term and even single-term exposure can also trigger the disease. Although exposure to asbestos can take years, even decades, to develop into cancer, once a patient is diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, this aggressive menace acts swiftly to kill its victims, no matter how healthy the patient nor how skilled the oncology team.

While several therapies for attacking treatment-resistant mesothelioma have emerged in recent years, all have limited degrees of success. Some cause more devastating side effects than others, but every treatment takes a toll on the body as it works to destroy the invading cancer cells.

What if there was a cancer therapy that was all but guaranteed to double your life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis?

Immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology, is a cancer treatment that uses the power of the body’s own immune system to control and eliminate cancer. Immunotherapies come in a variety of forms, including targeted antibodies, cancer vaccines, adoptive cell transfer, tumor-infecting viruses, checkpoint inhibitors, cytokines, and adjuvants.

Emerging clinical data has shown that treatment with a form of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) results in meaningful extension of life in half of cancer patients. Immune checkpoints are a normal part of our immune system. Their role is to prevent an immune response from being so strong that it destroys healthy cells in the body.

Immune checkpoints are activated when proteins on the surface of our immune cells (known as T cells) recognize and bind to partner proteins on tumor cells. These proteins are called immune checkpoint proteins. Their role is to prevent inflammation from becoming so severe in fighting the invading cells that it threatens to overwhelm the body’s ability to survive. When the checkpoint and partner proteins bind together, they send an “off” signal to the T cells, which reduces the immune system’s ability to destroy all cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking checkpoint proteins from binding with their partner proteins. This prevents the “off” signal from being sent, allowing the T cells to kill more cancer cells.

The utilization of ICI immunotherapy in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma is a promising, but highly challenging approach to the treatment of this cancer. Several clinical studies have demonstrated a life-extending prognosis when immunotherapy is directed against specific antigens related to mesothelioma tumors. In fact, ICI immunotherapy has the potential to increase a mesothelioma patient’s longevity by more than a year, effectively doubling the average life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

What if there was a way to know how well a cancer treatment would work before you tried it?

Now, prominent mesothelioma research scientist Dr. Bryan Burt, Associate Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, has determined a way to tell if your body will respond to immunotherapy before you receive it, and he has just received a $2.5 million grant to develop his test. Dr. Burt’s research has determined that malignant pleural mesothelioma tumors with high levels of neoantigens (a protein that forms on cancer cells when certain mutations occur) can be more successfully treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors when certain molecules, known as MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes, which help stimulate the “soldier” T cells to do battle with the cancer, are also present. When both neoantigens and MHC molecules are found in the body, a patient has a far greater chance of responding well to ICI immunotherapy.

A test for predicting treatment efficacy

The five-year MERIT Award (Method To Extend Research in Time) that Dr. Burt and his team have received was originally created by the National Institutes of Health in 1986. This prestigious award is designed to provide stable, long-term funding to outstanding and experienced investigators whose productivity is distinctly superior and who are deemed highly likely to continue to perform their research activities in an exceptional manner.

Dr. Burt and his team will use the grant to create a test that can be administered to patients to determine if MHC and neoantigens are both present in sufficient quantities to make treatment using immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy worthwhile in mesothelioma patients. He hopes to identify those who are likely to respond well and avoid causing harm to patients who are not likely to have a positive outcome. He also hopes to be able to predict the intensity of each patient’s response. His research into a possible test sheds light on a promising blood-based biomarker that could be very useful in identifying which patients with malignant mesothelioma are most likely to benefit from ICI immunotherapy.

Dr. Burt’s test to determine if ICI will be beneficial or harmful before trying the cancer therapy out on a mesothelioma patient creates significant hope for longer life for mesothelioma patients. If you or someone you love has been affected by mesothelioma cancer caused by asbestos, please contact Baron & Budd online or call 855-280-7664 to learn more about your legal options.

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