Cancer drugs that block an enzyme called EZH2 could be a “tremendous innovation” for mesothelioma patients, according to researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Recent research on mice at Memorial Sloan Kettering found that elevated levels of EZH2 allowed mesothelioma to grow out of control and that blocking the enzyme inhibited the growth of mesothelioma tumors.
A New Kind of Mesothelioma Drug?
Fortunately, there are already EZH2-blocking drugs being tested for the treatment of other cancers. Researchers are hopeful that these drugs may turn out to be promising for mesothelioma treatment, as well.
“Now that there’s a biological rationale for why these drugs would work in mesothelioma, this could be a tremendous innovation for patients,” says oncologist and mesothelioma specialist Marjorie Zauderer, MD, in a Memorial Sloan Kettering news article.
Mesothelioma-Promoting Enzymes and BAP1 Mutation
The path toward the potential treatment of mesothelioma with EZH2 inhibitors began with the recognition that high EZH2 is often the result of a mutation in the BAP1 gene.
BAP1 mutations are present in an estimated 50 to 60 percent of mesothelioma patients. Only a small number of these mutations are hereditary.
Because BAP1 mutations are so common in mesothelioma tumors, BAP1 is believed to be a promising target for new mesothelioma drugs. The Memorial Sloan Kettering BAP1 study also found that that mesothelioma cells that lack BAP1 are more sensitive than other cells to drugs that inhibit EZH2.
Extending Mesothelioma Survival with New Treatment
The next step for the development of a new mesothelioma treatment based on EZH2 inhibition is to launch a clinical trial with mesothelioma patients.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering say they are now working with a biotechnology firm to translate the findings on BAP1 mutation and EZH2 inhibition into into a mesothelioma research study.
Mesothelioma drugs are few and far between largely due to the fact that the disease is so rare and so unresponsive to most existing cancer therapies.
LaFave, LM, et al, “Loss of BAP1 function leads to EZH2-dependent transformation”, November 2015, Nature Medicine, 1344-1349.
Grisham, Julie, “Collaborative Research Suggests Targeting BAP1 May Help Treat Mesothelioma”, October 23, 2015, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website