Mesothelioma treatment hope from new 2-drug cancer therapy

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US researchers have reported promising results for mesothelioma patients from a new 2-drug chemotherapy programme.

During a study of 45 sufferers of potentially-fatal metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, researchers combined the drug azacitidine with entinostat, which has been used to treat leukaemia patients.

New 2-drug cancer therapy may help mesothelioma patients

The results of the study have given doctors new hope for better treatments for non-small cell lung cancer and possibly mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure and which attacks the lining of the lungs.

The average survival rate after 1 treatment of the 2-drug regime was 6.4 months, compared to 4 months for those who received the standard non-small cell lung cancer treatment.

The survival rate among study participants after 2 treatments rose to 8 months. Several patients showed dramatic results, including 7 who are still alive. For 1 patient, it has been 4 years since participation in the trial. Patients who received conventional chemotherapy after the trial also did better.

The new treatment, called epigenetic therapy, is based on the molecular characteristics (other than the DNA sequence) that influence how genes are expressed, explained the study report. "While gene mutations are known to cause cancer, epigenetic changes that turn genes on or off also affect disease development."

Although azacitidine had proven too toxic to be administered alone, small amounts of the drug appear to 'prompt' genes into fighting cancer cells.

"The idea is by giving these drugs at low doses we may affect gene expression in the tumour without killing the cancer cells, allowing the cells to reprogramme and, possibly, changing their fate," said study author Dr Charles Rudin of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Illness Team at Simpson Millar LLP said the study findings had important implications for mesothelioma treatment. "There's a possibility that epigenetic therapy will work against other thoracic cancers like mesothelioma: a terrible, asbestos-related condition of which we still know relatively little," said Emma. "Any study which delivers more effective mesothelioma treatment has to be positive."


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