Clinical Trial in Europe Offers Hope for Asbestos-Related Cancer Patients

Scientists have started testing the effectiveness of a novel mesothelioma treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

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Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a rare but fatal form of cancer that is linked to asbestos exposure. Although asbestos usage was banned some years ago, the incidence of mesothelioma is still rising, and as many as 43 000 people die from the disease each year according to some estimates. The median survival time after diagnosis is 9-12 months and chemotherapy provides an increase in life expectancy of about 3 months.

Supported by the EU-funded H2020MM04 project, a study has taken another step toward prolonging the average survival period thanks to a new personalised immunotherapy. A news item by mesothelioma advocacy centre ‘Asbestos.com’ summarises the phase II/III pivotal clinical study: “The randomized phase II/III study is designed to measure the efficacy and anti-tumor activity of MesoPher, a vaccine combining a patient’s own dendritic immune cells with a specially engineered cell line.”

Sniffer dog analogy

Together with an advanced-clinical-stage biotechnology company, universities, cancer institutes and hospitals in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are participating in the study. Quoted in the same news item, Dr Dean Fennell, clinical trial principal investigator and professor of thoracic medical oncology at the University of Leicester, explains the process using a sniffer dog analogy. “Those dogs are trained to recognize an odor, and then go after it,” he says. “That’s what we’re doing with the cells, first priming them outside the body to recognize what mesothelioma looks like, so when they go back into the body, they can orchestrate an immune response to attack the cancer.”

The DENIM clinical study, also referred to as dendritic cell-based immunotherapy to treat malignant mesothelioma, involves the comparison of two treatment options following standard chemotherapy: dendritic cell immunotherapy called MesoPher plus best supportive care (Arm A), or best supportive care alone (Arm B). The patients will all be randomised for the purposes of the study. Those in Arm A will receive three bi-weekly injections of MesoPher in addition to best supportive care. According to a summary on ‘ClinicalTrials.gov’, patients will receive 2 additional injections at weeks 18 and 30 where there is “stable disease or partial/complete response.” Patients in Arm B will get only supportive care after their chemotherapy.

The H2020MM04 (DC-based immunotherapy to treat Malignant Mesothelioma) project was launched to carry out the scientific research and registration process for market approval by the European Medicines Agency of a new immunotherapeutic approach to treat MM. Project partners hope that the treatment can be marketed all over the world, leading to a dramatic increase of life expectancy for mesothelioma patients.

Mesothelioma, which derives its name from the mesothelium, a sac-like membrane that protects most of the body’s internal organs, causes malignant cancer cells to form within the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). It can also affect the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) or testicles.

For more information, please see: H2020MM04 project website