By Sara Bondell - November 17, 2020
With the rise of immunotherapy, new lung cancer treatments are constantly making headlines. However, one type of lung cancer, mesothelioma, hasn’t seen the same success when it comes to new treatment options.
This fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Opdivo® (nivolumab) in combination with Yervoy® (ipilimumab) for the first new frontline treatment for mesothelioma in 16 years.
Both Opdivo and Yervoy had been previously approved for use in melanoma, renal cell cancer and lung cancer. The drug combination acts as an immune checkpoint inhibitor, which releases a natural break on the immune system that allows it to attack cancer cells.
“It seems like almost every other major cancer has an immune checkpoint inhibitor approved by now,” said Dr. Ben Creelan, a medical oncologist in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “Mesothelioma is always last to the party, so to speak. But it’s good because we are here now.”
"It seems like almost every other major cancer has an immune checkpoint inhibitor approved by now. Mesothelioma is always last to the party, so to speak. But it’s good because we are here now."- Dr. Ben Creelan, medical oncologist, Thoracic Oncology
About 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, cancer in the lining of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, each year. Most patients are not eligible for surgery at the time of diagnosis and almost half don’t respond to chemotherapy.
Moffitt participated in the clinical trials for the new combination therapy. Creelan says he was pleasantly surprised by the trial’s success.
“We know that malignant pleural mesothelioma has these aberrant cancer antigens that look weird or ugly to our immune system. Our immune system should get rid of it, but it needs a little extra push,” said Creelan. “So, these drugs give the immune system that extra push to recognize the mesothelioma cells as foreign and kill them.”
The new combination therapy gives patients with harder-to-treat disease a better chance of survival without some of the intense side effects associated with chemotherapy, particularly for a resistant non-epithelial type of mesothelioma.
Opvido is also being used in other clinical trials for mesothelioma patients.