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New Skin Cancer Drug Shows Promise in the Control of Mesothelioma


A drug used for the treatment of metastatic melanoma has shown great promise for tumor control in mesothelioma patients. Doctors from the University of Pennsylvania have done some preliminary testing on a small sample of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and the results are very encouraging. The use of the skin cancer drug pembrolizumab stopped or reversed tumor growth in more than 75% of the patients who were tested. This is very exciting news for mesothelioma victims and their loved ones.

Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer that is directly caused by exposure to asbestos. This disease has an especially long latency period of 20-50 years, which means that it may take decades for symptoms to appear. Even more than 30 years after the peak of asbestos use, there are 3,200 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, which is what makes this information about the success in this small trial so important.

The Clinical Trial

The researchers in charge of the trial gave the skin cancer drug pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda®) to 25 mesothelioma patients between March and December 2014. Most of these patients had already begun treatment for mesothelioma and completed some form of chemotherapy, with various levels of results. During this trial, not 1 of the patients showed any signs or symptoms of serious drug-related side effects. This leads doctors to believe that pembrolizumab might develop into a key treatment for all sufferers of mesothelioma.

In 52% of the people studied, their tumors, which had not responded to other treatments, temporarily stopped growing. 6 of the patients also showed some form of tumor shrinkage.

Evan Alley, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, presented his team’s findings at the annual meeting for the American Association for Cancer Research in a session called “Promising Trials in Immunotherapy.” In his presentation’s abstract, Alley wrote, “Pembrolizumab is generally well-tolerated and provides robust antitumor activity in patients with advanced PD-L positive malignant pleural mesothelioma.  The 76% disease control rate in this previously treated MPM population is unprecedented and warrants further study.”

Treatment Options

One of the treatment options most commonly used for mesothelioma patients has been chemotherapy. Long considered the best option, this treatment does not have a high success rate in mesothelioma victims. The disease is highly resistant to most conventional treatments, and currently there is not a standard treatment in place for after the chemotherapy. This is all the more reason why the high success rate in this clinical trial is such great news.

Keytruda® is a registered trademark of Merck & Co., Inc.

Sean O'Brien is a sponsored contributor to Mesothelioma Help Now.