For patients with malignant mesothelioma, the disease caused primarily by the inhalation of asbestos, chemotherapy has been the only front-line approved therapy. Until recently, there have been no options for “second-line” treatment. That situation may be about to change.
Recent studies suggest that a “checkpoint inhibitor” immunotherapy drug called Keytruda (generic name pembrolizumab) may be effective in treating this type of malignancy, according to CURE Magazine.
KEYNOTE-028 is an ongoing trial involving thirteen different research sites in six countries. Each of the twenty-five patients chosen for the study, which began two years ago, had either already been treated with chemotherapy or had been judged unable to receive chemotherapy.
At the time of the study’s data cutoff in June 2016, fourteen of the twenty-five patients had experienced a reduction in tumor size. Median progress-free survival was four to five months; median overall survival was eighteen months.
In malignant pleural mesothelioma, tumors form in the pleura (the thin membranes that line the lungs and chest wall). Most patients are not diagnosed until they are already at a late stage of the disease, which typically determines a high mortality rate.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Evan Alley, chief of hematology and medical oncology at Penn Presbyterian Hospital, put the results into perspective: “Most patients who receive a second-line therapy have a life expectancy of about six or seven months, so to have four patients still ongoing at two years is very encouraging.”