There is growing excitement around a new drug recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of skin cancer. Several studies have provided evidence that the drug may prove effective in treating many other cancers, including advanced mesothelioma.
The first drug of its kind, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) works by blocking a cellular pathway caused by PD-1 and PD-L1, specific proteins that restrict the body’s immune system from attacking cancer cells. In cancer patients who test positive for the protein, use of this drug may essentially turn the patient’s immune system back on, allowing for a better chance of survival.
The PD-L1 protein has never been associated with mesothelioma in the past, but recently, researchers in Spain have identified the protein in the tissue samples of 20 % of malignant mesothelioma patients studied. Interestingly, this protein is found only in mesothelioma patients with the shortest survival times. Those with the highest levels of PD-L1 had the briefest survival, with a median survival of just 4.79 months. Patients who tested negative for the protein had a median survival of 16.3 months.
The PD-L1 protein and its counterpart, PD-1 have been the subject of several studies involving different types of cancer, including mesothelioma, melanoma, and small cell lung cancer. Clinical trials conducted by Merck, the manufacturer of Keytruda, have shown very promising results. In one such trial, patients with advanced melanoma whose disease progressed after prior treatments were given Keytruda. Approximately 24% had their tumors shrink after being given the drug. The effect lasted up to 8.5 months, and for some, the tumors continued to shrink beyond this period. Doctors are hopeful that patients with other cancers will have similar successes with immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda.
Keytruda poses limited risk of severe side effects when compared to more traditional forms of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy. The most common side effects of Keytruda have been fatigue, cough, nausea, itchy skin, rash, decreased appetite, constipation, joint pain, and diarrhea.
Doctors are hopeful that this is the beginning of a modificatin in the way cancers are treated in the years and decades to come. The landscape of cancer care is shifting away from toxic treatments like chemotherapy. Now, doctors are beginning to focus on boosting the patient’s own immune system to fight off the disease, thus increasing survival rates and quality of life, while decreasing the negative effects of treatment.
If you have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, call the caring and dedicated Philadelphia asbestos lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler. Our firm has helped thousands of victims of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma obtain financial compensation they and their families need to help pay for the many expenses that follow this terrible disease. Our Center City Philadelphia law office represents clients throughout the region in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 1-888-369-0899 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with one of our experienced and skilled mesothelioma lawyers.