Another year is coming to a close, but for those in the mesothelioma community it is the end of another year without a cure. Unfortunately, once again, Mesothelioma Help lost a “Faces of Mesothelioma” friend to mesothelioma during the year. David Stetler, whose daughter Amanda chronicled his ups and downs during his battle with the disease, passed away on March 16 leaving many wondering if this needless suffering will ever end.
But, there has been some good news from researchers and the medical community. While they may not have brought an end to the asbestos cancer, there are many treatments in clinical trials, promising leads still in the lab, and several approved treatments now available to patients that show promise for effectively fighting back the relentless cancer.
Every year Mesothelioma Help reports on the top mesothelioma stories of the year, and below we highlight some of our most important stories of 2015.
Number One MesotheliomaHelp Story of 2015
Once again, Mavis Nye of England, who has been living with mesothelioma for six years, and has been a staunch advocate for herself and for all mesothelioma patients, takes the top spot for successfully fighting mesothelioma in 2015.
In 2014, Mavis enrolled in the MK-3475 clinical trial being run at The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer center in the UK. MK-3475 is known as Keytruda in the U.S. where it has been approved for the treatment of advanced lung cancer and melanoma.
Mavis was one of the first mesothelioma patients in the UK to participate in the trial designed to test the efficacy of the drug, developed by Merck, in suppressing the PD-L1 biomarker found in cancer cells. PD-L1, or programmed death-ligand 1, is a protein that has been shown to play a role in suppressing the immune system during cancer and other diseases.
Mavis announced in her Nov. 17 blog that her doctors told her during the reading of her scan results that she no longer has any active mesothelioma in her tumors. December 16 marked her 40th treatment with MK-3475. She will continue on the drug through the end of the trial, May 2016.
Patients across the U.S. are clamoring for Keytruda after 91-year-old, former president Jimmy Carter announced in December the drug helped him beat melanoma, that had metastasized to his liver and brain.
We hope all mesothelioma patients see the same results as Mavis!
PD-L1 Inhibitors in the Spotlight. In addition to Keytruda, the number one success story of 2015, various other PD-L1 inhibitors have also seen success in fighting back cancers.
Opdivo: Opdivo, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is another FDA-approved lung cancer drug that works by blocking the PD-L1 protein and activating the immune system. Except for the dosing differences, Opdivo and Keytruda are comparable, according to reports.
“This is yet another example of the advances we are making in the treatment of lung cancer using the approach of targeting specific tumor genes and their mutations.”
Genentech: The company reports that its investigational, anti-PDL1, immunotherapy drug atezolizumab (previously known as MPDL3280A), has seen positive results in two Phase II clinical trials for non-small cell lung cancer patients (NSCLC). The results “showed a statistically significant survival benefit compared to chemotherapy” in patients with recurrent NSCLC with medium and high levels of PD-L1.
FDA Approvals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been on a roll this year in approving anti-cancer drugs. While none of the approvals are specific to mesothelioma, those approved for lung cancer care open new doors for treatment of mesothelioma patients.
- The FDA announced last month that it has approved Portrazza (necitumumab) to be administered in combination with the chemotherapy drugs gemcitabine and cisplatin to treat patients with advanced squamous non-small cell lung cancer who have not previously received cancer treatment. The approval, represents progress for patients diagnosed with metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer, as each new therapy advances cancer care and gives patients hope for improved outcomes.”
- The FDA granted accelerated approval for the anti-cancer drug Tagrisso (osimertinib) to treat patients with advanced NSCLC. According to AstraZeneca, the maker of Tagrisso, also known as AZD9291, the drug is targeted to patients whose tumors express the EGFR mutation (T790M) and whose disease has gotten worse after treatment with other EGFR-blocking therapy. Tagrisso is the only approved medicine indicated for NSCLC patients with the EGFR T790M mutation. Researchers have found that over 50% of pleural mesothelioma patients express the EGFR protein.
- On Dec. 11, the FDA announced approval of Alecensa (alectinib) for the treatment of ALK-positive NSCLC in patients who have progressed on or are intolerant to Xalkori (crizotinib). Alecensa, from Genentech, is an oral medication that blocks the activity of the ALK protein, which may prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading.
Immunotherapy. With Keytruda leading the news, developments in the field of immunotherapy for the treatment of mesothelioma have made this year particularly newsworthy.
“Immunotherapy is a new class of cancer treatment that works to harness the innate powers of the immune system to fight cancer,” according to the Cancer Research Institute. Recharging the body’s own defense mechanism, the immune system, immunotherapy therapies may hold greater potential than current treatment approaches:
- To fight cancer more powerfully,
- To offer longer-term protection against the disease,
- To come with fewer side effects, and,
- To benefit more patients with more cancer types.
MesotheliomaHelp will continue to bring articles focused on immunotherapy to our readers.
(Note: According to medical reports, immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo help a minority of patients, but those who respond to the treatment often do extremely well.)
COMMAND Trial Stops Enrollment. Last year the COMMAND (Control Of Mesothelioma with MAiNtenance Defactinib) trial was seen as one of the bright spots in the future of mesothelioma treatment. Sadly, this year, the clinical trial was halted after a data safety monitoring board found that VS-6063, when given to mesothelioma patients as part of the COMMAND (Control Of Mesothelioma with MAiNtenance Defactinib) trial, did not produce “a sufficient level of efficacy” to justify continuation.
Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer of the lungs, heart or abdomen, caused by past exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma has a long latency period where those exposed to asbestos may not exhibit symptoms for nearly 60 years after exposure. Mesothelioma can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, however, the likelihood of recurrence of the cancer is high. There is no cure for mesothelioma.
Know more about Mesothelioma and how you can deal with it.