Researchers confirm that a new triple medication combination shows “statistically” significant progress in treating mesothelioma — a devastating thoracic cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. The results of a Phase III trial show that when taken together, the chemotherapy drugs Bevacizumab, also known as Avastin®, along with Altima® (Pemetrexed) and Cisplatin, provide a higher overall survival rate compared to the standard of care for mesothelioma treatment that has been in place since 2003.

Challenges of Treating Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a notorious disease primarily because of its undeniable association with exposure to asbestos. An estimated 14,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, most of whom are elderly. Symptoms of mesothelioma often go unnoticed or are slow to develop. Following exposure to asbestos, it can take an estimated 40-years for mesothelioma to develop and present any signs or symptoms. What’s more — initial symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough and chest pain, are commonly attributed to less serious conditions. In other words, often by the time of a mesothelioma diagnosis, the disease is so advanced there is little chance of survival.

“We only see approximately 20% of patients that may be good surgical candidates for a multi-modality group, or treatment, so I think it’s going to be very important to be able to find the disease earlier where effective therapies may have a chance,” says Harvey I. Pass, M.D., Stephen E. Banner Professor of Thoracic Oncology at New York University Medical Center.

And, that effective therapy may now be the new triple chemotherapy drug combination. Clinical trials show the 3-drug treatment has provided the first significant advance in mesothelioma survival outcomes in over a decade.

“For too long, patients with mesothelioma have been underserved in terms of treatment options compared to other types of cancer. These data are an important treatment advance and may offer a potential new standard of care,” says Professor Gerard Zalcman, M.D., Principal Investigator of the study.

Meaningful Change for Mesothelioma Patients

Compared to standard chemotherapy alone, studies of the Avastin-Altima-Cisplatin mixture used in mesothelioma patients show a 24 percent reduction in risk of death — or a median gain in survival of 2.7 months — compared to those mesothelioma patients who received standard chemotherapy. The triple blend has also shown to significantly delay the redevelopment of mesothelioma, giving patients 9.6 of progression-free survival, compared to 7.5 months among standard care patients.

According to Dr. Zalcman, “The 2.7 month OS [overall survival] improvement could be viewed as slight, but it still accounts for the longest OS ever obtained in a large controlled trial of pleural mesothelioma…”

There are drawbacks, however. Mesothelioma patients using the triple threat drug combination presented a higher risk of:

  • Hypertension
  • Blood clots
  • Excessive bleeding and hemorrhaging events

Still, given that mesothelioma is resistant to many treatments, this new, 3-drug combination not only offers a new standard care, but also a glimmer of hope for further mesothelioma patients. Researchers expect the triple therapy will pave the way for even more promising treatments that could extend the lives of thousands of people who have been exposed to asbestos.