One way to treat mesothelioma is with surgery. Another way to treat mesothelioma is with immunotherapy drugs (although these are not yet a recognized standard of care).
Some mesothelioma specialists say it’s possible to get better quality of life and longer mesothelioma survival if these two ways of treating mesothelioma are combined.
Other mesothelioma specialists are skeptical about that. They’d like to see evidence of the benefit to be gained by combining surgery and immunotherapy.
Unfortunately, there is no such evidence. Not yet, anyway.
Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine Mesothelioma Treatment Center are trying to find that evidence. They’re conducting a clinical trial to put the surgery-and-immunotherapy pairing to the test.
Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Drugs are Checkpoint Inhibitors
The Baylor College of Medicine Mesothelioma Treatment Center is part of Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas. The clinical trial was announced in September 2016.
What the research team there is planning to do is give mesothelioma patients an immunotherapy drug prior to surgery. The idea is that this helps the immune system kill off mesothelioma cells the surgery can’t eliminate.
The mesothelioma immunotherapy drugs that are being given to the patients who enroll in this clinical trial are known as checkpoint inhibitors.
According to the team at Baylor, checkpoint inhibitors work by jamming the signals mesothelioma cells send out. The signals are messages to the body’s immune system.
These messages tell the immune system that everything is A-OK. They tell the immune system to pay no attention to the asbestos-mutated cells that are growing and spreading like wildfire.
These messages tell the immune system to leave everything alone and unleash no killer cells – cells that would otherwise destroy the mesothelioma cells.
The immunotherapy drugs the Baylor team plans to give patients are supposed to prevent the immune system from being tricked by the mesothelioma cells’ signals. The killer cells will be unleashed.
How successful the immune system attacks will be is something the researchers are going to look very closely at during the clinical trial.
Mesothelioma Surgery Done After Immunotherapy
The clinical trial includes a comparison test between two different immunotherapy drugs. One is
MEDI4736. The other is tremelimumab.
The researchers plan to give some patients just the MEDI4736. Other patients will be given MEDI4736 together with tremelimumab.
Then there is a waiting period, to allow these immunotherapy drugs to kick in. This wait will be followed by surgery.
The plan is to use state-of-the-art surgery techniques to remove all tumors that can be seen. The goal is basically to cut out every possible last bit of tumor tissue.
Meanwhile, the immune system will be ready to attack in the event the tumors try to come back later.
“This trial is one of the first of its kind in which immunotherapy is given before surgery, and from it, we expect to learn an enormous amount about this disease,” said assistant professor of surgery Bryan Burt, M.D., in a statement issued by Baylor. Dr. Burt is the principal investigator of the clinical trial.
If you are interested in more information about this clinical trial, the Baylor team invites you to call (713) 798-6376.