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By many accounts, 2020 will be remembered as a year that tested people across the globe. The year was especially difficult for many mesothelioma patients and their families. However, reasons for hope remain.

Mesothelioma researchers persevered this year, and many advancements were made since January 2020. New mesothelioma treatments gained approval, symposiums went virtual and the future for 2021 offers promise.


Approvals in Mesothelioma Treatment

The medical field faced many challenges this year. However, 2020 brought many successes to the mesothelioma community. Some history-making mesothelioma treatment advancements received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. In 2020, for the first time in 15 years, the FDA approved a new mesothelioma treatment.

FDA Approves A New First-Line Immunotherapy Treatment

In October, the FDA approved the immunotherapy combination Opdivo®️ (nivolumab) and Yervoy®️ (ipilimumab) as a first-line treatment option for mesothelioma patients. The approval was for pleural mesothelioma patients who cannot undergo surgery.

The FDA approval followed earlier clinical success with the immunotherapy combination. Researchers found a median survival increase of four months for patients treated with the two drugs.

Median Survival of Patients Treated With Opdivo®️ and Yervoy®️

18.1 months

Median Survival of Patients Treated With Chemotherapy

14.1 months

Researchers continue to study the treatment. This treatment approval is only the second systemic therapy approved by the FDA for mesothelioma patients. Those interested in immunotherapy treatment should discuss their options with a mesothelioma specialist.

Next-Generation CAR T-Cell Therapy

The FDA also approved a new therapy for phase 1 trials. This is a preliminary approval needed to progress to full FDA approval.

Atara Biotherapeutics’ ATA2271 is a modified CAR T-cell therapy option for mesothelioma patients. The clinical trial will test the therapy on humans for the first time. The preclinical testing was done on mice and was successful in increasing survival.

Researchers hope the modifications will increase patient survival time and inhibit new tumor growth.

The clinical trial is a collaborative effort with Memorial Sloan Kettering. Patients interested in CAR T-cell therapy options should speak with their medical team.

Bayer Collaborates With Atara and Provides Funds

On December 6, Bayer and Atara announced a collaboration. The two companies will work together on Atara’s ATA2271 CAR T-cell therapy. Atara will continue to take ownership of the phase 1 trial but will receive $60 million from Bayer as an upfront payment. Once Atara reaches undisclosed benchmarks with the trial, they may receive additional payments totaling $610 million.

*Source: Business Wire

Impacts of COVID-19 on Mesothelioma Treatment in 2020

The coronavirus’ impact on the respiratory system makes mesothelioma patients especially susceptible to complications. The virus may have severe effects on cancer patients and cancer survivors. These groups may be immunocompromised.

As such, some patients have adjusted their treatments to avoid going into the hospital. Other patients may have had last-minute changes in clinical trials or other experimental treatments. For example, some clinical trials have been delayed due to the pandemic-related pressure put on the medical field.

However, the medical community has continued to support patients. Regardless of the ensuing pandemic, patients received the care they needed.

Symposiums Canceled or Rescheduled

In addition to the impacts of COVID-19 on a patient level, many mesothelioma symposiums were either:

  • Canceled
  • Rescheduled
  • Held virtually

These events are often a time for those in the mesothelioma community to come together. Symposiums are an opportunity for medical professionals, caregivers and survivors to celebrate treatment wins and learn about the newest research.

However, these events needed a change of venue to keep everyone safe and slow the spread.

International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig) Conference

iMig’s bi-annual conference was set for March 25 – 28, 2020. As a result of the pandemic, the Australian organization postponed the event until March 17 – 20, 2021. Due to the continued presence of the pandemic, the conference was postponed a second time. The iMig conference will now be virtual and is planned for May 7 – 9, 2021.

International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma

The Mesothelioma Foundation’s annual symposium was slated for April 6 and 7 in San Antonio, Texas. The event was postponed, and a new date has not been announced.

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) Annual Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference

ADAO postponed its 16th annual Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference. The conference was slated for April 3 – 5, 2020, in Washington, D.C. No updated date has been released.

Hope for Advancements in 2021

As coronavirus vaccine approvals occur across the globe, there is hope for a return to semi-normalcy. According to reports, the vaccine should be distributed across the United States throughout 2021.

There is renewed hope for further treatment advancements, continued clinical trials and hugs for mesothelioma patients who’ve faced isolation during the pandemic.