Although some individuals who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma may make good candidates for surgery, others may be at a stage in the disease that is too advanced for this remedy. Instead, these patients may undergo radiation treatments or chemotherapy. However, whether we are talking about surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, none of these approaches is likely to completely cure someone of mesothelioma. This fact underscores the need for more effective medications.
At Mesothelioma Circle, we always welcome any positive news on the scientific front. One analysis recently published by Reuters points out how clinical trials to evaluate new cancer drugs are becoming more efficient, and therefore are expediting the arrival of better treatments for patients.
Not many medications are currently available
The National Cancer Institute lists two medications that are currently approved for the treatment of mesothelioma: Pemetrexed, and cisplatin.
Pemetrexed binds to enzymes that are needed for the synthesis of DNA. This mechanism helps stop cancer cells from reproducing.
Meanwhile, cisplatin causes abnormal bonds to form within the DNA molecule, actions that can cause cancer cells to self-destruct or stop growing.
Together, pemetrexed and cisplatin make a powerful regimen that may help alleviate some of the symptoms of mesothelioma. However, they do not provide a cure, and they may even cause patients to experience certain side effects, such as nausea and fatigue.
Doctors may prescribe certain medications that are similar to these two drugs, but the fact remains that not many options are available to people.
Strategies that target patients’ genes pay off
Before the advent of personalized medicine, in which clinicians have been able to analyze individual patients’ genes, pharmaceutical development was very expensive and somewhat limited. Scientists would have to conduct experiments or test patients for about a decade and spend approximately $1 billion. These difficulties, combined with a high failure rate of drug candidates, made pharmaceutical companies very reluctant to develop products for relatively rare diseases, which may include mesothelioma or variations of cancer that differ because of individual genes.
However, genetic screening has enabled scientists to develop drugs for specific patient populations, therefore increasing the likelihood of success in their clinical trials.
Furthermore, attitudes about the acceptability of early results in drug experiments are changing. Specifically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created a new product designation for drug candidates that show signs of being more effective than standard therapies.
“The drugs are simply better,” Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told Reuters. “[M]any of the discussions we had at the agency dealt with whether we should approve the drug or not. With some of these newer drugs, the issue is how fast we can approve them, not whether they should be approved.”
Additionally, the FDA often requires that drugs that go through an expedited approval process undergo further post-marketing trials.
One more benefit of the availability of preclinical genetic analyses is that scientists will know if their medications aren’t working a lot more quickly. If researchers create a drug that targets a certain group of patients, and discover that it doesn’t produce the desired effects, they can go back to the drawing board a lot sooner.
Your participation may help
Clinical trials are often the only way that cancer patients can have access to the most innovative, and possibly more effective, medications. Clinical trials are not right for everyone, but if you are interested in participating, talk to your healthcare team. Together, you can review the various trials that are underway throughout the country, whether you qualify and whether you are willing to assume the risks, which can include side effects or failure of the drug.
Regardless of whether the drug works, your participation can provide valuable information to scientists that can benefit future patients.