A small but encouraging clinical study may hold some promise for patients coping with malignant mesothelioma that has not responded to chemotherapy treatment. The study was just reported in the October issue of the British medical journal The Lancet Oncology.
One of the most exciting aspects of the study is the fact that it was done on human volunteers with malignant mesothelioma. Typically studies of this type use laboratory mice or fruit flies as study subjects making the applicability of the results to the human body uncertain. Less exciting is that the study size was relatively small – only 29 people. But this is offset by the favorable results the researchers observed. With results like these, it is likely that the treatment tested will be the subject of additional tests in the near future. Repeat testing to make sure that one favorable study was not a fluke is a key step to making any new drug or procedure part of standard treatment options available to all patients who could benefit from them.
The treatment involves creating specific antibodies to fight mesothelioma cells. Antibodies combine chemically with substances that the body recognizes as alien, such as bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances in the blood. Then they try to destroy these aliens because they mostly are harmful. The antibodies in this study are a type called monoclonal antibodies. That means they are clones of a unique parent cell. Producing these types of antibodies to target specific cells like cancer cells has been the focus of much intensive scientific research for decades.
Tremelimumab is the name of the monoclonal antibody used in this study. In their paper the researchers state that because of receiving this antibody, “….we noted disease control in nine (31%) patients..”. They further state, “….tremelimumab seemed to have encouraging clinical activity and an acceptable safety and tolerability profile in previously treated patients with advanced malignant mesothelioma.”
 The Lancet Oncology, Volume 14, Issue 11, Pages 1104 – 1111, October 2013doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70381-4