Cancer Immunotherapy Month 2020 & Mesothelioma Treatment Advances

Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma Treatment

Cancer Immunotherapy Month is an annual observance to raise awareness about immunotherapy treatment. This treatment uses the body’s immune system to fight many different cancers, including mesothelioma.

Immunotherapy clinical trials continue to show success in treating mesothelioma. Many of these studies focus on immunotherapy combined with other standard treatments. A recent clinical trial in Italy has shown an increase in survival for mesothelioma patients receiving immunotherapy combined with chemotherapy.

June 2020 Cancer Immunotherapy Month Events

The month of June is dedicated to research and awareness of immunotherapy cancer treatment. The month also highlights promising clinical trials and advancements in immunotherapy. The Cancer Research Institute hosts the 8th Annual Cancer Immunotherapy Month™. Throughout the month, the nonprofit leads numerous educational and social events.

Given ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the month’s events are virtual. The public can participate through webinars, virtual greetings, webcasts, online videos and other alternatives. Virtual participation has allowed individuals to participate in the month’s events.

“A Future Immune to Cancer.”

–Phrase used by the Cancer Research Institute during the We Wear White for A Future Immune to Cancer™ event to raise awareness about the potential of immunotherapy

Those who have participated in the events have heard from cancer immunotherapy patients, learned about the latest immunotherapy treatments and much more. Individuals are encouraged to participate beyond the month of June. This includes reading about immunotherapy, sharing information with others, making a donation to the cause and much more.

Immunotherapy Treatment Advancements for Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option for mesothelioma compared to chemotherapy and radiation. Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. The immune system is composed of organs, tissues and white blood cells.

The benefits of white blood cells guided the campaign to wear white on June 12th for immunotherapy awareness. 

Immunotherapy drugs are classified by how they utilize the immune system. The main types of immunotherapy include adoptive cell transfer, cancer vaccines, immune checkpoint inhibitors, oncolytic viruses and monoclonal antibodies.

What Types of Cancer Can Be Treated with Immunotherapy?
  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Head and neck cancers

Immunotherapy is one example of a treatment that can help extend life expectancies for mesothelioma patients. A clinical trial in Italy recently studied the effects of ramucirumab combined with gemcitabine.

  • Ramucirumab (generic for Cyramza™): a monoclonal antibody that binds to antigens on cancer cells. This stops the cells from signaling new blood vessel growth and slows cancer cell growth.
  • Gemcitabine (generic for Gemzar®️): a chemotherapy drug that mimics DNA. It interferes with DNA production and ultimately kills replicating/dividing cells. Cancer cells divide faster than others, so they are targeted more effectively than healthy cells.

The study focused on pleural mesothelioma patients. A total of 81 patients received ramucirumab and gemcitabine. A total of 80 patients only received gemcitabine. The trial served as a second-line treatment for all patients.

Other characteristics of the study participants include:

  • 119 men and 42 women
  • 132 patients with epithelial cell type and 29 patients with non-epithelioid cell types
  • 98 patients with stage 3 cancer, 60 patients with stage 4 cancer and 3 unknown
  • 80 patients with assessed asbestos exposure
  • Median age of 69 years

Survival statistics at the end of the trial showed promise for treating pleural mesothelioma. The median survival time of patients receiving the multimodal therapy was almost double that of patients who received chemotherapy alone.

Ramucirumab/Gemcitabine Study Results
Combined Therapy* Chemotherapy Only
Median survival: 13.8 months Median survival: 7.5 months
6-month survival rate: 74.7% 6-month survival rate: 63.9%
1-year survival rate: 56.5% 1-year survival rate: 33.9%

*Combined therapy references patients treated with both ramucirumab and gemcitabine.

The Future of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

This study is just one example of how multimodal treatment using immunotherapy can improve the prognosis for mesothelioma patients.

Researchers continue to study different immunotherapy drugs and other therapy combinations. Immunotherapy is also being tested for other types of mesothelioma, such as peritoneal mesothelioma. Many of these studies and their successes were celebrated during Cancer Immunotherapy Month.

ONCOS-102, an oncolytic virus, is another immunotherapy drug showing success in treating pleural mesothelioma. New studies are combining ONCOS-102 with pemetrexed and cisplatin (chemotherapy drugs). Results show promise in extending progression-free survival.

Some types of immunotherapy drugs are only available through clinical trials. Patients then must meet certain criteria before participating in the treatment. However, immunotherapy is becoming more widely available to cancer patients.

For example, Keytruda®️ is now FDA approved as a first-line treatment for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) when combined with chemotherapy. Keytruda®️ has already been tested in mesothelioma patients with some success.

Mesothelioma patients should seek care from a mesothelioma specialist to understand if immunotherapy is an option for them.