Cancer research seems to have taken an enormous leap forward recently. “Finding a cure for cancer” as a goal has been repeated so often for so many years that the words had almost begun to lose significance.
But now with the advent of completely new ways of looking at cancer and the body’s response to cancer, new ways of trying to treat cancer – including mesothelioma – have emerged.
May is National Cancer Research Month. The perfect time to take a look at the new “big picture” advances in cancer research and how it may offer new treatment options for mesothelioma.
Cancer Research’s Recent Giant Step Forward
This new giant step in cancer research that is in progress right now involves harnessing the power of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This is a promising time for cancer research that could deliver much anticipated progress in fighting the disease.
The excitement surrounding this revolutionary new treatment is due to the fact that some types of cancer immunotherapy have all ready yielded dramatic and long-lasting responses.
The beauty of using the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells is that it can respond, in a unique way, tailored to the individual’s own genetic code expressed in every single cell in the body.
New Cancer Research Putting All Cancers in One Basket
Cancer research is being propelled forward by another big innovation. This one involves how new cancer treatments are studied. Up until now, cancer treatments were segregated by cancer types. For example, mesothelioma drugs were developed and tested to treat only mesothelioma and pancreatic cancer drugs were developed and tested only to treat pancreatic cancer. But now scientists have come around to thinking that because all cancers, no matter what type, have many basic characteristics in common, a drug that can treat one cancer may also be able to treat other types of cancer. The new variable in cancer research that is being considered is not the location of cancer but the type of cell mutation causing the cancer.
Now new clinical trials to test cancer treatment drugs are simultaneously testing a drug on many types of cancers. This new way of testing is called a “basket study” because it metaphorically puts different types of cancers all together in one basket.
This allows for exploration of a treatment’s effectiveness across multiple types of cancer early, quickly, and in one trial. The goals of these basket trials are to speed up the conversion of scientific discoveries into new therapies and to increase the number of patients who can benefit from them.
Many experts in cancer research believe that basket trials are transforming the field of oncology.
Cancer Research Innovations Include Mesothelioma
The cancer research innovations, of triggering the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and the simultaneous testing of a treatment on many types of cancer in a basket study, are underway in a large clinical trial of a new drug called Keytruda. Its effective in immunotherapy and its safety and tolerability is being studied in 320 cancer patients with 20 types of cancer. Twenty-five patients have advanced pleural mesothelioma. The preliminary results for mesothelioma look promising. The early findings showed an overall response rate of 28% in patients. Additionally, 48% of patients had stable disease, resulting in an overall disease control rate of 76%. This is the first time that the new immunotherapy has been tried with mesothelioma and with these encouraging results we can expect more. Especially now that the new basket approach to clinical trials makes it more economically feasible to include rare and difficult to treat cancers like mesothelioma.
How Cancer Research Got Its Own Month
Cancer research is the focus of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). The AACR wanted Congress to officially recognize the importance of innovative high-quality cancer research. This is one strategic way to try to make sure Congress continues to make cancer research a top national priority. It provides an opportune time to educate Congress about the importance of continued funding for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health.
In 2007, the AACR secured resolutions from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to raise awareness of the critical advances in cancer research. On May 21, 2014, with California’s Diane Feinstein as one of the official co-sponsors, Congress by unanimous consent officially recognized May as National Cancer Research Month.