Day after day, countless researchers from across the U.S. and the globe are driven to find an effective treatment, if not a cure, for mesothelioma. It is this dedication to research that brought some significant breakthroughs for mesothelioma care in 2017.
As 2017 comes to an end, Mesothelioma Help looks back at some of the biggest stories that brought excitement and hope to all of the mesothelioma community.
Anytime the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves another anti-cancer therapy, the mesothelioma community takes notice. This year, two landmark approvals took the cancer world by storm: gene therapy and an approval based on a biomarker and not a tumor type.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in Dec. 7 remarks before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Hearing:
“We’ve seen two recent approvals of CAR-T therapies for cancer, where a patient’s own immune cells are re-engineered – using the tools of gene therapy – to target a patient’s individual cancer. This form of gene therapy represents a whole new paradigm in treating cancer. And the early results are changing the way we treat serious tumors.
Over the next several years, we’ll see this approach become a mainstay of treating, and probably curing, a lot of our most devastating and intractable illness. At FDA, we’re focused right now on establishing the right policy framework to capitalize on this scientific opening.”
Read about the first-ever gene therapy approval.
In another first, the FDA approved an anti-cancer drug based on a biomarker and not cancer type. The FDA granted accelerated approval to Keytruda as a treatment based solely on the genetic mutations of a cancer and not on the type of cancer.
The FDA’s Richard Pazdur, M.D. announced in a May 23 press release:
“This is an important first for the cancer community. Until now, the FDA has approved cancer treatments based on where in the body the cancer started—for example, lung or breast cancers. We have now approved a drug based on a tumor’s biomarker without regard to the tumor’s original location.”
Keytruda is also approved in the U.S. for use in melanoma and lung cancer patients whose cancer continues to grow after a prior round of chemotherapy failed to stop the progression. The immunotherapy drug was wildly successful for Mavis Nye of England, who is now an eight-year mesothelioma survivor. She recently launched her Mavis Nye Foundation to give back to the community that supported her throughout her journey.
Read about the first-ever approval for an anti-cancer drug for a biomarker.
The National Cancer Institute promoted its nationwide clinical trial that is open to thousands of cancer patients for treatments based on the genetic makeup of their tumors. For patients suffering from cancer that continues to grow, despite previous treatment, the NCI-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH) clinical trial offers hope. The trial was developed to determine whether treating patients with drugs that target the gene abnormalities believed to be driving their cancer will shrink their cancer regardless of the cancer type.
Read more about the NCI-MATCH trial.
To make the list of the top mesothelioma stories of 2017 doesn’t always mean it is good news. One of the big stories this year, unfortunately, is that the number of mesothelioma cases continue to rise. In its report “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality — United States, 1999–2015,” published March 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that despite a decline in asbestos exposure due to regulatory actions and the decline in the use of asbestos, the number of mesothelioma deaths each year is still rising.
Read more about the report here.
None of the breakthrough drugs would be needed if people were not exposed to asbestos in the first place. Yet, exposure continues to be a real threat, and scientists, environmentalists and physicians continued their call for a ban on the toxic mineral.
At least one country recently took action to stop the spread. Brazil, the world’s third highest producer of asbestos, recently banned asbestos in the country.
Many in the U.S. mesothelioma community hope that this action opens the eyes of U.S. government officials and a U.S. ban won’t be far behind. Linda Reinstein, President/CEO and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, is doing her part and saw progress when the Senate passed the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) of 2017.
Read more about what ARBAN could mean for Americans.
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 decades 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.