Like every year, 2017 was full of highs and lows. While asbestos made headlines for positives, like a ban in Brazil, advocates also saw setbacks, like the administration announcing scaling back the Environmental Protection Agency’s evaluations of asbestos and the other nine dangerous chemicals.
The mesothelioma community has also seen ups and downs. New reports came out discussing the global burden of the disease, with an average of around 40,000 deaths each year. Other studies highlighted that the threat of mesothelioma continues to rise, with new cases expected to continue increasing at least through 2025. But with these and other reports bringing not so great news, mesothelioma research also saw some progress and steps toward hopefully one day finding a cure.
As we get ready to head into a new year, we highlighted some of these positive, impactful steps that could greatly benefit mesothelioma patients today and in the future.
Progress Through the Cancer Moonshot
Since its inception in January 2016, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative led by Former Vice President Joe Biden has made some great progress in improving cancer care for good. With the goal of ultimately finding a cure for cancer, the program has led to many collaborative research efforts and new technology to improve data sharing, research, and how clinical trials are conducted.
Some of this progress was explained by Biden at the South by Southwest conference early in the year. A variety of partnerships have taken place between pharmaceutical companies, cancer institutes, federal agencies and more to improve how cancer is diagnosed and treated, as well as how researchers can share their information. Projects like the NCI Formulary, a collaboration between the National Cancer Institute and pharmaceutical companies, has made it easier for researchers to find cancer drugs available for use in clinical trials and speed up the approval process.
Most recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a big collaboration in the effort of improving immunotherapy research. The NIH will work with 11 pharmaceutical companies in a project called Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies, or PACT. The five year public-private partnership will begin by focusing on identifying and further researching potential biomarkers to advance new treatments and hopefully expand the ability of immunotherapy to treat more types of cancer.
Since immunotherapy has already shown promise as an effective treatment for mesothelioma, more research around the treatment could only help further improve its efficacy.
Exploring Genetics and Mesothelioma
Researchers have been looking into how certain genetic markers or mutations can implicate a mesothelioma diagnosis for the last several years, and made some more discoveries in 2017. One of the most important aspects of these studies has centered around a mutation of the BAP1 gene.
Researchers found those with the BAP1 gene and a family history of cancer typically developed mesothelioma earlier and had improved long-term survival compared to others. This connection could help lead to earlier detection of the disease and better treatment for future patients. But as researchers have continued to explore this connection, they’ve discovered more genetic mutations and sequences related to mesothelioma.
Another study from earlier this year looked specifically into the connection between certain genes and a peritoneal mesothelioma or pleural mesothelioma diagnosis in younger patients. As they screened patients, researchers discovered more gene fusions in mesothelioma patients that have also been linked to other diseases, like clear cell sarcoma. Discovering more gene mutations or fusions like this can help open the door for earlier detection, and also can help identify more effective treatment options for these patients. Genetics will likely continue to be an important aspect for mesothelioma and other cancers for years to come.
Researching Promising Treatments
Several ongoing clinical trials this year have also found some new treatments or treatment combinations that could benefit mesothelioma patients even at later stages. One of these promising studies is focused on the impacts of immunotherapy as a treatment before surgery in pleural mesothelioma patients. In most prior clinical trials, immunotherapy has been used as an individual treatment or the second step in a multimodal plan.
The study, held at Baylor College of Medicine, saw promising early results when testing checkpoint inhibitors prior to undergoing surgery to remove any visible tumors. Researchers discussed how patients were able to tolerate the treatment well, though it would take more time to monitor the effectiveness of the combination. Researchers hope as the trial progresses that they see immunotherapy help prevent disease recurrence and extend overall survival. The study could even possibly extend to other kinds of cancers as immunotherapy continues to grow in importance across the field.
Another recent clinical trial could also bring more hope to late stage mesothelioma patients, who often face a life expectancy of about one year. The study involved 90 pleural mesothelioma patients treated with surgery followed by photodynamic therapy, a new treatment that uses specialized drugs with light to kill cancer cells. With this new combination treatment, median survival was extended to 3 years, providing hope that even advanced mesothelioma can still be treated in a curative manner.
Hoping for More Advancements in the New Year
For decades, the standard of care for mesothelioma has remained the same. With so much new, exciting research going on and clinical trials emerging, there is great hope that doctors will be able to help improve the standard. Studies have shown that survival rates have improved slightly for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma already, and hopefully with more research that will only continue to improve.
Stay up to date on all the latest research news with our blog throughout the new year, which will hopefully continue to bring us closer to a cure one day.