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Promising New Drug Nivolumab Tested on Mesothelioma Patients

Originally developed for and tested on a number of common cancers, the drug nivolumab is now being tested for use on mesothelioma. This is a common procedure with groundbreaking cancer medications as it allows for more widespread testing before being used on less common cancers.

How It Works

The new drug functions as a checkpoint inhibitor and is classified as a monoclonal antibody. It actively blocks protective signals from cancer cells, which the cancer cells use to defend against T cells. When the cancer cells are unable to get defensive signals out, it allows the T cells to mount an attack. Ipilimumab is another new drug that is being used in conjunction with nivolumab. The former drug is used to attack an immune-slowing protein receptor. Used together, the drugs allow the immune system to do its work and support T cells in their attack jobs. The test comes as the drugs are used on deadly cancers like malignant pleural mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose but also covers almost three-quarters of all mesothelioma cases. Despite aggressive treatments, the prognosis for survival is very poor.

Drug Testing After Chemo Failure

Studies on the new drugs and how they can treat mesothelioma were conducted by French researchers at the University of Lille's Department of Pulmonary and Thoracic Oncology. The purpose was to figure out whether the drug combination or nivolumab by itself could extend patient survival. Control of the disease has been less than 30 percent when backup drugs other than chemo are used. After chemo and radiation has been used and the mesothelioma continues to advance, there is currently no recommended treatment.

Controlling the Disease for 12 Weeks

During the course of the study, researchers wanted to see if they could control the mesothelioma for at least 12 weeks in at least 40 percent of the 125 patients chosen. Patients were chosen based on whether they had a current life expectancy of over 12 weeks. All patients had already gone through two lines of chemotherapy at least once. The sample size was split with one half being treated with only nivolumab and the other with nivolumab and ipilimumab. The drug treatment continued until either the mesothelioma came back or the patients were unable to continue treatment due to a high level of toxicity.

Drug Combination Success with a Caveat

Overall, the research showed that over half of the patients were able to survive at least 12 weeks. The higher rate of success occurred with the combination of drugs. However, higher levels of toxicity were also observed in these patients. Three deaths also occurred among the patients receiving the combination of drugs. Nevertheless, doctors saw the overall results as a net positive and further trials are upcoming.

Katherine Keys
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