Fighting Mesothelioma Takes an Arsenal of Weapons
In a recent breakthrough in the fight against cancer, it seems that military generals are running the show instead of scientists. According to a NY Times article, “armed antibodies” act like “guided missiles with toxic warheads” or “floating sea mines” in their quest to “blow-up” offending cancer cells. In reality, however, researchers are clearly in charge, and they believe they have found a new class of cancer drugs “that may be more effective and less toxic than many existing treatments.” This, they say, may be the “magic bullet” in the fight against cancer, especially for aggressive, treatment-resistant cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Recently, there have been a variety of breakthroughs in the battle against mesothelioma, a signature cancer of asbestos, specifically in the area of gene therapy, but none as promising as this most recent discovery. Pharmaceutical companies are clamoring to develop their own brand of drug that relies on antibodies to deliver toxic payloads to cancer cells, but spares healthy cells leaving patients with a high quality of life during treatment.
In fact, according to the article, there are 25 drugs currently in clinical trials. Genentech, a California-based company focused on producing and marketing innovative solutions for unmet medical needs, has 8 of these drugs in trial and 17 under development. TDM-1 is Genentech’s lead drug that could be headed to market in less than a year. Adcetris, developed by Seattle Genetics, was approved last August to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and systemic anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
As opposed to inundating the body with “cell-killing chemotherapy” that attacks and kills all cells in the body, leading to often debilitating side effects, doctors can administer the new drugs along with the chemotherapy where they bind together and are transported directly to the cancerous cells. The toxic chemotherapy agents are not released until well inside the tumor, bypassing and preserving the healthy tissues. The side effects are minimal with patients reporting just minor nausea and muscle cramps.
These are targeted therapy drugs and each one focuses on a particular protein unique to each cancer or subtype of cancer. For example, T-DM1 binds to the HER2 protein in just 20 percent of breast cancers. According to the NY Times, researchers have spent nearly 30 years trying to get to this point with the armed antibodies.
“To get to this point is an indescribable feeling, actually,” said Dr. John Lambert, executive vice president for research and development at ImmunoGen who has been at the forefront of development.
For the nearly 3,000 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, a breakthrough of this magnitude is critical. Although the scientists aren’t promising a cure with the new drugs, they are hopeful the drugs will bring an increased survival and a nearly uninterrupted lifestyle for the patients undergoing treatment.