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New vaccine successful in treating mesothelioma

According to the Daily Express, there is new hope for mesothelioma victims after a vaccine has successfully treated the disease during a clinical trial. The new drug is producing promising results, with 94% of those patients involved responding positively.

The drug, intended to help the body’s own immune system to fight the disease, is the result of long-term research into this devastating form of cancer. It is caused by historical exposure to asbestos, and although the disease can also affect the abdominal wall, the lungs are more commonly affected after having inhaled asbestos particles.

What causes pleural mesothelioma?

The structure of asbestos fibres means that once they are breathed in, it is very difficult for the body to expel them. The needle-like fibres lodge within the pleural membrane surrounding the lungs, and set up disease in later life.

Figures from the mesothelioma register show that 2,538 people died in the UK from the disease in 2013, a sharp increase in numbers from the 2,312 deaths in 2011. Additionally, 2,215 new cases were assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit in 2014.

Furthermore, these numbers are not expected to drop significantly until the end of the decade – stressing the need for greater awareness of the dangers of asbestos and the continuing need for training.

A breakthrough in treatment

Mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to treat, and from the time of diagnosis a patient generally survives for around one year. The disease is often at an advanced stage when sufferers seek medical help, and therefore treatment options are limited.

Medical treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms for as long as possible – depending on each individual case, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may be an option, followed by palliative care.

Dr Raffit Hassan of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, USA, who led the research, commented on the success of the trial,

“This is a breakthrough and these preliminary results are very exciting. This is a very hard-to-treat disease.”

Thirty-eight patients were involved in the trial, and the tumours of 86% of those significantly reduced in size. It is reported that the tumour disappeared totally in one patient.

Hope for the future

The success of this trial means the drug, which is made up of an engineered and weakened form of the listeria bacteria, can be ‘fast-tracked’ onto the market in America. Once injected, the bacteria release a protein that is also present on the mesothelioma cells.

This then triggers the immune system to kill off the listeria as well as the cancer cells, and because the bacteria has been ‘watered down’ listeriosis is not a risk. Dr Hassan expressed his hope for the future when he said,

“Our goal is to put patients in long-term remission and based on this small study, I think this is possible.”

There are hopes that the same type of treatment might also be successful for other forms of cancer, including pancreatic and ovarian, and trials have already started to establish if the same level of success might be possible.