Examining Current Clinical Trials and Mesothelioma Treatment Trends

Watch Mary Hesdorffer, the Meso Foundation’s executive director and mesothelioma expert, in this opening presentation at the 2015 International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma. In this video, she discusses the state of mesothelioma research and treatment options. Her discussion begins with a focus on clinical trials. With 92 open clinical trials for mesothelioma, of which 55 include some form of pharmacologic or radiotherapy intervention, mesothelioma research has never looked more hopeful.

Currently, research is focusing beyond chemotherapy, taking a look at how manipulation of the immune system can advance treatment options. SS1P, an immunotoxin, illustrates this new area of research. Other trials are looking at modulating the immune system with t-cells in hopes of starting immune system surveillance that will destroy the bad cells.

Available clinical trials now include vaccine treatments, chemotherapy, and, sometimes, a combination of both. For example, the CRS-207 trial combines a mesothelin-targeting vaccine with traditional chemotherapy.

Various new trials are also in the works. Verastem, a pharmaceutical company, is beginning a trial that uses an agent to target cancer stem cells to delay the time to progression after having a response or stabilization with first-line therapy.

Another focus in mesothelioma research is targeting angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the ability for cancer cells to find new blood supplies so they can continue growing. This type of research is working on ways to cut off this blood supply.

Mary notes that the face of cancer treatment is changing, and it is important that patients are healthy enough to receive new treatments. When considering a new clinical trial or treatment, a patient must consider the impact it can have on their health, how it will impact their cancer, and whether or not the new drugs will prevent them from being able to try other treatments in the future.

To watch Mary Hesdorffer’s full presentation, click here.

Preliminary Results of Immunotherapy Drug Show Promise for Mesothelioma Patients

VaccineThe Meso Foundation is optimistic about the results of the Phase 1b trial of pembrolizumab for PD-L1-positive advanced solid tumors, which were announced at the most recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Dr. Evan W. Alley, MD, PhD, co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, reported the results of a Phase 1b trial of pembrolizumab for PD-L1-positive advanced solid tumors at the AACR Annual Meeting on Sunday. Of the twenty-five patients with mesothelioma who were treated as part of the study, 28% experienced tumor shrinkage and another 48% had prolonged stabilization of their disease. The drug was also demonstrated to be safe, with no patients discontinuing treatment as a result of side-effects.

”These results are quite exciting, and provide further proof of principal that this class of drugs, known as checkpoint inhibitors, are effective for mesothelioma,” noted Dr. Lee M. Krug, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Meso Foundation. “Hopefully this study will encourage much larger trials in this disease.”

Pembolizumab is an antibody that blocks the inhibitory effects of PD-1, thereby boosting the immune system’s activity. In cancer, high tumor expression of PD-L1 is linked with more aggressive disease and a poorer prognosis, and PD-L1 expression was used to select patients for this study. PD-1 inhibitors have already shown great promise in melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and lung cancer, demonstrating both tumor shrinkage and durable responses. Pembrolizumab (KeytrudaTM) is FDA approved for the treatment of advanced melanoma.

In May, the Meso Foundation will be hosting Dr. Alley in an interview, as part of the Meet the Mesothelioma Experts series. More information about the series is available at curemeso.org/experts.

How Past Asbestos Use Still Affects Life Today

Asbestos in AmblerIn 1875, Ambler, Pennsylvania was the largest manufacturer of asbestos insulation and asbestos-containing products in the United States. Asbestos manufacturing brought economic growth to Ambler. With the growth came the knowledge that exposure to this  “miracle fiber” caused horrible disease, such as mesothelioma. Over the next 140 years, asbestos continued to contaminate the grounds, creeks, and playgrounds of Ambler.

Ambler, PA has over 3 million tons of asbestos waste left over from past manufacturing. The “Ambler Piles” (literally piles of asbestos) were the playground of many until the 1980s, and the area later became a superfund site.

In 2009, another Ambler asbestos waste site became the BoRit Superfund site. Despite this designation, this parcel of land has been proposed to become the home of a multi-story housing complex.

In 2015, the BoRit Citizen Advisory Group is still organizing efforts to properly clean up the town and keep the citizens of Ambler safe and informed. The Meso Foundation had the opportunity to organize an educational presentation on April 1, 2015. Diane Blackburn-Zambetti of the Meso Foundation was joined by Dr. Keith Cengel, and Richard Pepino to meet with community members to discuss prevention, research, treatment and more regarding asbestos and asbestos-related diseases. Diane helped residents learn about their resources and meet others whose lives have been impacted by asbestos. This meeting was well attended.

The EPA estimates that asbestos is still present in tens of millions of homes, government buildings, schools, and has also been found naturally-occurring in the soil in several locations in the United States, sometimes in very close proximity to inhabited areas. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 1.3 million construction employees continue to be occupationally exposed to asbestos. When disturbed, asbestos particles become airborne and are easily inhaled. No amount of exposure is deemed safe.

Contrary to popular belief, asbestos has not yet been fully banned by the U.S. government, but even if it were, the problem of exposures occurring as a result of past use continues. All individuals who have already been exposed and those who will continue to be exposed to the asbestos already present in our environment will remain at risk of mesothelioma. It is important to learn about the dangers of asbestos and where it is present in order to prevent exposure. This information and more is available at curemeso.org/asbestos.

Recognizing Workers Memorial Day on April 28

Asbestos WorkerWorkers Memorial Day is a day set aside by the unions of the AFL-CIO when we honor those who have passed either on thejob or from a job related injury. The day we also acknowledge the grieving of friends, family and community. On this day we re-evaluate our thoughts regarding safety and recommit to safety on the job.

April 28 is also the same date that OSHA was established as was the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970.  Under this Act employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment.

Despite the existence of OSHA, work areas are not alwayssafe. Every day, workers are exposed to many physical, chemical and airborne hazards, which after many years, still include asbestos. Asbestos diseases claim the lives of over 10,000 lives every year. Asbestos is still present on many job sites. Job site fatalities CAN happen many years later from occupational exposures.

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation realizes the importance of reducing occupational and take-home exposures through education of the workforce. Through education, we strive to eliminate asbestos exposures, therefore reducing asbestos disease deaths. We work with trades unions to deliver asbestos awareness education on a new level, including the following: anatomy, asbestos, asbestos diseases, other cancers caused by asbestos and proper communication with your health care provider. We help you understand HOW asbestos affects you and your family.

This year, on April 28 Diane Blackburn-Zambetti will be speaking during the Workers Memorial Day ceremony in Pittsburgh, PA.

For more information about asbestos exposure and who is at risk, visit curemeso.org/asbesto.

The Risk of Take-Home Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos WorkerAsbestos does not always affect only the initial person exposed. Take-home exposure, also known as secondary exposure or bystander exposure, is occupational exposure carried from the work place to the home, which exposes loved ones to the same toxins as the worker. These exposures will play a large role in ‘round two’ of asbestos disease. These exposures venture down many pathways; through laundry, wearing work boots throughout the house, using the same vehicle for work and family, or simply hugging a loved one when returning home from work.

When discussing this topic, Diane Blackburn-Zambetti, Director of Policy and Prevention Education at the Meso Foundation, stated, “In my career as a radiation therapist, I had the opportunity to treat not only one of my father’s co-workers, but both of his daughters for asbestos related diseases in an 8 year time span.”

Take-home asbestos exposures are not uncommon. In speaking with the mesothelioma community, Diane met various individuals affected by take-home exposures. In the late 1950s, the wife of a Steelworker was diagnosed with mesothelioma and passed away shortly after. Linda Papa lost her mom from take-home exposures she experienced while doing her husband’s laundry.

One man in the mesothelioma community was a proud IBEW 1 tradesman for 40 years. On Christmas Eve in 2004, he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. He passed away in 6 weeks. One year later, his daughter was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma.

In 2015, the work force has become more safety-oriented. This is not to guarantee that take-home exposures do not and will not occur, as mentioned above. In the mesothelioma community, it is more important than ever to educate and utilize the tools provided by the Meso Foundation to change the focus to STOP – LOOK – THINK when dealing with asbestos.

For more information about primary asbestos exposure and take-home exposure, visit curemeso.org/asbestos.