For decades, the first-line treatment for lung cancer and mesothelioma has centered on three therapies: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Within the last few years doctors, researchers and patients have been investing in an alternative treatment type known generally as immunotherapy. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm explore the ins and outs of this new therapy.
Immunotherapy fights cancer by using the body’s own immune system in different ways, strengthening the system or making it more responsive to cancer cells. Drug companies are recognizing the massive potential here, investing in research and development for immunotherapy drugs. Two of the newest medications, Opdivo and Yervoy, are poised to generate $8.5 billion in revenue by 2020.
Some medical experts are pointing to the potential for these drugs to actually cure cancer, rather than sending patients into remission. Currently, only two drug companies have had immunotherapies approved by the FDA (Merck & Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.), though many others have projects in progress.
The idea of using our own immune system to combat cancer is not new – it has been a goal in oncology dating since the 19th century. It was not until the mid-1990s, however, that the first breakthrough was made by Dr. James Allison.
Dr. Allison is now the head of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. His breakthrough involved discovering how to release a natural stopping mechanism in the immune system, paving the way for the drug Yervoy, which is approved to treat melanoma.
Fortunately, lung cancer is one of the major diseases research and development is focused on. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, causing more deaths than prostate, colon, and breast cancers combined. This is due in part by the widespread prevalence of the risk factors associated with lung cancer, such as smoking and exposure to asbestos, radiation, and pollution.
Researchers are taking several approaches to immunotherapy for lung cancer, including treatments for mesothelioma. One particularly promising type of immunotherapy for mesothelioma is called checkpoint inhibitors.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors work by targeting cells that balance the regulation of immune response. These treatments strengthen pre-existing anti-tumor immune responses by either inhibiting or stimulating molecules. Tremelimumab is currently being tested in a phase II clinical trial for patients with mesothelioma.
Another type of immunotherapy treatments showing promise for this type of cancer are therapeutic vaccines. Vaccines target tumor-specific antigens expressed in most lung cancers. One of these specifically targeting mesothelioma is called the WT1 antigen vaccine, which is currently in phase II clinical trials. This vaccine is being tested in mesothelioma patients who have completed surgery and chemotherapy or radiation. Another, TroVax, is also in phase II testing.
Adoptive T-cell transfer is a third major area of immunotherapy research, focusing on removing then reintroducing T-cells in patients. These cells are modified with chemicals to enhance their activity then reintroduced into the patient, ideally improving the immune system’s anti-cancer response. A drug called mesothelin is currently in phase I/II clinical trials for mesothelioma patients.
More information on these and other lung cancer treatments, doctors, and hospitals working on lung cancer and mesothelioma immunotherapies can be found here, on the Cancer Research Institute website.
If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, contact our firm immediately. Our team of lung cancer attorneys has been fighting on behalf of cancer patients for over 30 years. Our legal consultations and services are free, and we work exclusively on a contingency basis. This means that we never charge our clients out-of-pocket, and we only get paid if we win you a settlement or verdict.