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FDA’s Approval of Immunotherapy Drug for Lung Cancer Opens Another Door for Mesothelioma Care

Immunotherapy Drugs for mesothelioma patients

In September, Mesothelioma Help reported on the improved survival in lung cancer patients who were treated with Roche’s immunotherapy drug atezolizumab, known as TECENTRIQ. Based on the results realized by the clinical trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved TECENTRIQ for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease progressed during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy.

The approval, according to the EPA’s Oct. 18 press release, was based on the OAK and POPLAR clinical trials that demonstrated consistent results in efficacy and safety in patients with NSCLC. Compared with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, patients in the trials saw a 4.2 and a 2.9 month improvement in overall survival, respectively.

“Immunotherapy can mean a new future for lung cancer patients around the world,” said Dr. Fred R. Hirsch, Professor of Medicine and Pathology at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and School of Medicine and CEO of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, in “New Treatments Changing Future of Lung Cancer” highlighting the breakthroughs in immunotherapy. “These treatments can add months and years to a patient’s life and the IALSC hopes that doctors and patients worldwide have access to up-to-date information about immunotherapy and its benefits.”

In June, mesothelioma warrior Mavis Nye, of England, completed the MK3475-28 two-year clinical trial at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Mavis, who was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2009, received the PD-L1 immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda in the U.S. Now, Mavis is the only person in the U.K. who can claim being in remission from mesothelioma. Just last week she announced she has now been in remission for four months.

Pleural mesothelioma is a deadly cancer of the lungs caused by past exposure to asbestos. The cancer has a long latency period where those exposed to asbestos may not exhibit symptoms for nearly 60 years after exposure. Like lung cancer, mesothelioma can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but survival is limited. There is no cure for mesothelioma.

However, following the recent FDA approvals of Nivolumab (Opdivo®) and Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®), TECENTRIQ  is the third immunotherapy drug approved for treating lung cancer, bringing hope to the mesothelioma community based on the success seen in Mavis, and other mesothelioma and lung cancer patients.

TECENTRIQ is a monoclonal antibody immunotherapy drug designed to target PD-L1 expressed on tumor cells and tumor-infiltrating immune cells and to enable the activation of T cells, according to Roche. PD-L1, or programmed death-ligand 1, is a protein that has been shown to play a role in suppressing the immune system in mesothelioma and other cancers.

Immunotherapy, also called immuno-oncology or “IO”, is a kind of treatment that helps the body’s own immune system fight cancer, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance’s “Immunotherapy for Cancer Patients” fact sheet. Monoclonal antibodies such as TECENTRIQ are designed as therapies to fight cancers with a specific biomarker, like PD-L1 in this case.

“TECENTRIQ is a new option to help people with this type of previously treated metastatic lung cancer, regardless of PD-L1 expression, live longer than chemotherapy,” said Sandra Horning, M.D., Roche’s Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development in the Oct. 19 press release announcing the drug’s approval. “TECENTRIQ is the first and only approved cancer immunotherapy designed to target the PD-L1 protein, which may play an important role in the way the medicine works.”

If you have mesothelioma, discuss your immunotherapy treatment options with your physician.

Photo Credit: Roche


  • New Treatments Changing Future of Lung Cancer
  • EPA’s Oct. 18 press release
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