Mesothelioma update: new chemotherapy treatments

Mesothelioma update: new chemotherapy treatments

Monday 2 May 2016

Seamus Herrick


Chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment for mesothelioma.  The most common chemotherapy drugs used in Australia to treat mesothelioma are, or include a combination of: Cisplatin; Carboplatin; Alimta; and Gemcitabine. Alimta was the first, and is currently the only, drug listed on the Australian Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) specifically for treating mesothelioma.

There have been a number of recent developments in the management of mesothelioma.  Drug companies, the medical profession and mesothelioma advocacy groups are currently lobbying the Australian Government to recognise these developments by adding new drugs to the PBS.  Unless drugs are on the PBS, the new treatment is often too cost-prohibitive for patients.

The use of immune therapies is standard practice for the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer.  Keytruda is one drug on the PBS specifically for the treatment of melanoma.  Despite testing still in its infancy, there has been positive human clinical trials data relating to the application of Keytruda, and other immune therapies, to mesothelioma.  Australian oncologists have started to prescribe Keytruda to mesothelioma sufferers but at great expense to the patients.  Support is growing for the addition of Keytruda to the PBS for the purpose of mesothelioma treatment.

A recent French trial presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in June 2015, added the drug Avastin to standard chemotherapy treatment of mesothelioma.  The French trial identified a significant improvement in the survival of mesothelioma patients who received Avastin in combination with other standard forms of chemotherapy.  Avastin is designed to stop the blood supply that feeds tumours and is administered in conjunction with chemotherapy.  The drug company that designed Avastin, Roche, has taken steps to have the drug listed on the PBS.

More recent research coming out of the United Kingdom is also giving hope to mesothelioma sufferers. The researchers have found that a drug called HRX9 stopped tumour growth in mice that had human malignant mesothelioma cells implanted in them.  The drug is said to knock out the key defence mechanisms of mesothelioma tumours.

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