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Fighting Mesothelioma with Immunotherapy Drug Tremelimumab

168295_injection1A new study on the immunotherapy drug tremelimumab for the treatment of mesothelioma has some good news and some bad news for mesothelioma patients and families.

According to the UK authors of the new report, a number of studies indicate that tremelimumab shows promise as a potential new therapy for mesothelioma. On the other hand, it is still unclear whether the cost of the new drug will be worth the benefits to mesothelioma patients.

“Even though clinical efficacy has been preliminarily demonstrated, the cost/benefit ratio of this drug for this neoplasm is yet to be ascertained,” writes study author Alice Guazzelli, a PhD researcher at the University of Salford in Salford, UK.

Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

An immunotherapy drug is a drug that works against mesothelioma by harnessing the power of a mesothelioma patient’s own immune system.

Tremelimumab is a monoclonal antibody that works by binding to the protein CTLA-4 on the surface of white blood cells and preventing it from inhibiting the cells’ cancer-fighting power.

By disabling the CTLA-4, tremelimumab stimulates the immune system of patients with mesothelioma and certain other types of cancers to attack their tumors.

Orphan Drug Status for Tremelimumab

Earlier this year, the FDA granted orphan drug status to tremelimumab for the treatment of mesothelioma.

Orphan drugs are those designed to treat illnesses that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. Malignant mesothelioma impacts about 3,000 Americans each year. Most of them contracted the cancer from exposure to asbestos.

The orphan drug designation for tremelimumab gives its manufacturer certain incentives to test it and bring it to market more quickly as a new kind of immunotherapy for mesothelioma.

Focus on Mesothelioma Treatment

To determine the current status of tremelimumab as a mesothelioma treatment, Dr. Guazzelli and her colleagues combed through the medical literature for studies of the drug.

They found that, while tremelimumab was first studied as a potential treatment for melanoma skin cancer, it was expanded to thoracic malignancies, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma.

Now that the first studies of tremelimumab as a mesothelioma therapy have been completed, the team says the results are “now under critical consideration”.

If this new immunotherapy drug is eventually approved for the treatment of mesothelioma, tremelimumab may be used to help boost the effectiveness of other treatments such as chemotherapy.


Guazzelli, A, et al, “Tremelimumab for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma”, November 11, 2015, Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy, Epub ahead of print

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