Plans are underway for the organization of human trials for a new drug to treat mesothelioma patients, one that has shown much promise in laboratory tests conducted in Australia.
According to an article in the Melbourne Herald-Sun, the drug – developed in that city – has done a tremendous job of shrinking tumors in mice. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work with humans, the developers are quite hopeful about the potential results in humans.
Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute senior clinical research fellow Associate Professor Tom John said the drug is an antibody drug conjugate, which binds to a target on the surface of the cancer cell and releases little packets of chemotherapy.
However, it is designed to only kill bad cells. That’s different from most chemo drugs, which also eliminate good cells, often making patients very ill.
The drug has already been shown to be safe in treating humans with brain cancer. A somewhat serendipitous discovery that mesothelioma expressed the same molecule addressed by the brain cancer drug was the result of some hard work as well as a good deal of lateral thinking at the research lab, noted Professor John, who made the discovery when, on a whim, he decided to check with colleagues in an adjacent lab who were working on treatment for brain cancer.
If the drug is successful, it will be a big deal in Australia, where the rate of mesothelioma is one of the highest in the world. The five-year survival rate for mesothelioma patients in that country is currently less than 10 percent, so scientists certainly have a reason to put mesothelioma treatment research at the top of their list.
Australia has a long history of asbestos use and was long home to a mine where dangerous blue asbestos was cultivated. The mine literally wiped out the once-bucolic town of Wittenoom in the Pilbara Region.
As of 2016, three individuals were living in the town, which receives no government services and no longer appears on maps of Australia. Approximately 23,000 individuals worked at the mine during its 23 years of operation (it closed in 1966) and records show that a few thousand of those employees (and others who lived in Wittenoom) became sickened due to asbestos exposure.
Though Australia banned the use of asbestos materials in 2003, it was used in a variety of products made there until the late 1980s. Hence, individuals who worked in a variety of industries were exposed on a regular basis.
Should the Australian drug prove helpful in treating mesothelioma in humans, it is likely that it could make its way to the United States, where researchers are still looking for new and better ways to treat asbestos-caused cancer, which kills about 2,500 people annually in the U.S.