The drug company Epizyme Incorporation has recently announced that they have dosed their first patient in the Phase II clinical trial for their new mesothelioma drug Tazemetostat for the treatment of adults with mesothelioma that is characterized by BAP1 loss-of-function. It’s a step in the right direction towards more treatment options for those with this rare form of cancer, caused by exposure to toxic asbestos.
“The study will first evaluate the safety and pharmacokinetic profile of the candidate in patients (n=12) with relapsed or refractory mesothelioma, regardless of BAP1 status. This will be followed by a two-stage study in patients (n=55) with relapsed or refractory mesothelioma characterized by BAP1 loss-of-function,” the company stated in their press release to the media.
The statement also noted that of the 12,000 or so individuals who develop mesothelioma worldwide each year, about half of them have tumors characterized by BAP1 loss-of-function. BAP1 is a gene that is found in chromosome #3, usually able to suppress cell growth and suppress metastases as well.
However, when it is not working properly, those functions do not happen. One sees mutations in this gene in a number of different types of cancer, not just mesothelioma.
Epizyme is also conducting clinical trials among patients who have other kinds of cancer, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and is beginning a Phase I trial of Tazemetostat in children with certain genetically-defined solid tumors.
Currently, Alimta – manufactured by Eli Lilly – is the first line treatment of choice for individuals with malignant pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of asbestos-related cancer. Alimta was approved by the FDA a dozen years ago and is used in tandem with a platinum-based chemotherapy agent, such as cisplatin or carboplatin.
Patients with mesothelioma, in general, currently have few choices of treatment protocol for their disease. Though some are living longer these days, thanks to moderate advances in therapies, the average life span on an individual with pleural mesothelioma remains at 8 to 14 months from the time of diagnosis.
The peritoneal and pericardial forms of the disease can kill much more quickly.
Oncologists still consider mesothelioma to be one of the most difficult forms of cancer to treat successfully. Only a miniscule number of patients live past the 5-year mark and just a handful have survived longer than that.
The statistics are sad, especially because many (or even most) cases of mesothelioma could have been avoided had the use of asbestos been discontinued as soon as doctors and others realized how dangerous it was.
From the early decades of the 20th century, company physicians warned employers about the use of the mineral, noting the presence of lung-related illnesses in those who worked with it on a regular basis. But few heeded those warnings, preferring to save money by continuing with asbestos use rather than replacing the mineral with a more expensive – but safer – material.