For all intents and purposes, mesothelioma is a rare disease. It’s a form of cancer that many people wouldn’t even be able to identify but for the many commercials on TV that address the connection between the disease and its cause.
Because it’s so rare, researchers looking for new treatments for the disease have often found themselves dealing with a lack of funding.
Unlike breast or lung cancer research, which receives millions and millions each year, mesothelioma research has suffered over the years but, thankfully, due to citizen groups such as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and others, those studying all forms of the disease have received more money than ever over the last decade or so, producing some promising results.
Since the early years of the millennium, Alimta™ (pemetrexed) has been the preferred chemotherapy drug for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Paired with cisplatin or a different platinum agent, Alimta has proven to provide the best results for prolonged survival. Now, however, scientists are studying another pair of drugs that may eventually be the next first line treatment for the disease.
Researchers from the Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, and Chinese Academy of Sciences have begun animal testing using a combination of Onconase (ONC), sometimes offered by itself to treat mesothelioma, and dihydroartemisinin (DHA), a derivative of the anti-malaria drug artemisinin, for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In vivo experiments with the drug combination (using lab mice) showed that the DHA greatly enhanced the anti-tumor effect of Onconase. Furthermore, there were no obvious adverse effects observed after the drugs were administered.
These findings, along with others, demonstrate that the combination of these two drugs may at some point become a new regimen for the treatment of both mesothelioma and non-small cell lung cancer.
The next step will most likely be a clinical trial that tests the use of these two drugs on patients suffering from these two diseases, though it may take a while for that to happen. Sadly, the road to finding new drug regimens can be slow, especially in the United States where FDA laws tend to keep such testing moving at a snail’s pace compared to other countries. Many applaud these laws, noting that they protect us, while others become frustrated with the red tape.
Nonetheless, it’s often a wise idea for patients with mesothelioma to take advantage of such clinical trials when the opportunity arises. New treatment options for mesothelioma remain fairly rare, so the chance to participate in such a trial doesn’t come along every day and holds no promises, but many cancer patients have bought themselves extra time with their loved ones thanks to successful trials.
Remember also that clinical trials are free but to participate you have to be willing to deal with the unknown as far as new drugs are concerned.