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New Treatment Brings Hope for Rare, Deadly  Cancer Linked to Asbestos
  • Posted February 15, 2024

New Treatment Brings Hope for Rare, Deadly Cancer Linked to Asbestos

Mick worked in a factory boiler room in the 1970s, where he was exposed to asbestos.

He didn't think much of it until 2018, when he began to feel ill and dropped more than 40 pounds.

The diagnosis: malignant mesothelioma, a rare but rapidly fatal cancer linked to asbestos.

"It was a bit of a shock: I was given four months to live,"Mick recalled in a Queen Mary University of London news release that did not provide his last name.

Luckily, Mick is still around, thanks to a cutting-edge therapy that significantly increases the survival of patients with malignant mesothelioma.

An experimental drug called ADI-PEG20 increased average survival of mesothelioma patients by 1.6 months, and quadrupled the three-year survival rate, when combined with traditional chemotherapy, trial results show.

These findings are significant because malignant mesothelioma has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of any solid cancer, around 5% to 10%, researchers said.

ADI-PEG20 works by cutting off the cancer's food supply, researchers explained. The drug blocks the ability of cancer cells to absorb the amino acid arginine from the bloodstream.

Mesothelioma cells lack a protein called ASS1, which allows cells to create their own arginine. If they can't get arginine from blood, their ability to grow and multiply is thwarted, researchers said.

"It's truly wonderful to see the research into the arginine starvation of cancer cells come to fruition. This discovery is something I have been driving from its earliest stages in the lab,"said lead researcher Dr. Peter Szlosarek, a professor at Queen Mary's Barts Cancer Institute in London.

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs.

About 4 in 5 cases of mesothelioma are caused by workplace exposure to asbestos, researchers said. Inhaled asbestos fibers that settle in the lungs can cause irritation that might trigger mesothelioma.

The clinical trial recruited 249 patients with malignant mesothelioma and randomly assigned some to receive the experimental drug.

For two years, Mick went to the hospital every week to get the drug.

"I'd have two injections of the new treatment -- one in each arm. I didn't have any serious side effects,"Mick said. "I met many of the other people on the trial. Over time, some of them disappeared. But I kept going." 

Two and a half years after Mick enrolled in the clinical trial, his mesothelioma returned and he received a second course of treatment involving immunotherapy.

His cancer remains under control, and he recently celebrated his 80th birthday.

"This trial has changed the lives of people with mesothelioma, allowing us to live longer,"Mick said. "I have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren now -- I wouldn't want to miss all that."

Other studies are assessing ADI-PEG20's use in treating sarcomas, brain tumors and other cancers dependent on arginine, researchers said.

The new study was published Feb. 15 in JAMA Oncology.

More information

Mayo Clinic has more on mesothelioma.

SOURCE: Queen Mary University of London, news release, Feb. 15, 2024

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