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Erlotinib plus bevacizumab in previously treated patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma

Source: Cancer

Even as improvements in the therapies available for mesothelioma patients have been made in recent years, the disease remains without cure. Most patients are ineligible for curative surgeries, so investigations into improving the efficacy of chemotherapy are among the most common research programs in contemporary mesothelioma treatment studies. Combination chemotherapy using pemetrexed and cisplatin (Alimta therapy) is considered first-line chemotherapy because it has demonstrated the most effective improvement in median time of survival when compared to every other chemotherapy regimen that has been tried. However, at some point during treatment, the disease always takes the upper hand and the chemo’s attempt to control the mesothelioma becomes more and more ineffective, until the drugs are no longer able to restrict the disease at all. When this happens in other cancers, one of the standard responses is for an oncologist to attempt another course of chemotherapy using different agents. This type of treatment regimen is known as second-line chemotherapy. Unfortunately, research has not yet identified an effective second-line chemotherapy regimen for pleural mesothelioma. Even as research into it continues, most results have been disappointing.

A group of renowned mesothelioma specialists has recently released the results of a study they conducted in hopes of identifying an effective second-line chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma. Their study investigated the use of erlotinib plus bevacizumab for this purpose and their results have recently appeared in the journal Cancer.

This article is a summary of their findings.

Overview of the Study

A number of different agents and treatment regimens have been studied for the second-line use of chemotherapy in pleural mesothelioma patients. No standard has been identified though, so research into this question continues in hospitals around the world. Much of this research is being conducted based on our growing understanding of the biological foundations of the disease.

Some studies have demonstrated that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) are important co-factors in the growth and spread of mesothelioma, so the authors of the present study investigated whether agents that inhibit these growth factors would be effective for treatment of the disease. Erlotinib is an inhibitor of EGFR, while bevacizumab inhibits VEGF. Combination therapy using these agents has been shown to have clinical efficacy as second-line treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and the physicians were hopeful that it would demonstrate similar efficacy for pleural mesothelioma.

The treatment plan under study called for the daily administration of 150 mg of erlotinib and for the administration of 15 mg/kg of bevacizumab on Day 1 of a 21-day cycle. Patients would be assessed for individual reactions to the treatment at each administration, while tumor assessment would be conducted through CT every two cycles.


A total of 24 patients were included in the final study. As in most mesothelioma-related studies, the majority of those studied were older Caucasian men. There were 15 men and 9 women, with an average age of 62.5 years. 23 of the patients were white and one was Hispanic. 8 of the patients began the study with a performance status of 0 and 16 began it with PS of 1. The authors report on a number of other breakdowns and classifications as well.

The overall results of the treatment were disappointing. This chemotherapy regimen was not nearly nearly as effective for mesothelioma patients as it was for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. There were no complete or partial responses, but temporary stable disease was achieved in 12 patients. The other 12 patients had had progressive disease throughout the study. Of the 12 patients who demonstrated stable disease, 7 (of 8) were from the group with the best performance status (0) and 10 (of 16) presented with epithelial mesothelioma, the form of the disease with the best prognosis.

The patient cohort demonstrated a median time-to-progression of 2.2. months and a median survival time of 5.8 months. When studied at 6- month and 12- month intervals, the time-to-progression percentages were 29% and 6%, respectively, and the survival rate percentages were 46% and 24%, respectively.


Because of mesothelioma’s unique behavior pattern, chemotherapy remains the most commonly deployed treatment modality and this situation is unlikely to change in the near future. Advancements in the available therapies have already led to increased survival time, but more research is needed before medicine truly turns the corner on its ability to effectively treatment pleural mesothelioma. Even though this study did not demonstrate any clinical efficacy, other studies have identified alternative agents as possible treatment candidates and results from those investigations are eagerly awaited by doctors and patients alike.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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