The drug is called avelumab and a Phase I study of its effect in people with mesothelioma was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
National Cancer Institute’s Raffit Hassan, MD, one of the nation’s top mesothelioma experts, presented the findings.
PD-L1 and Mesothelioma
To understand how an experimental drug like avelumab might work, it is important to understand what PD-L1 is and how it is thought to impact the development and growth of mesothelioma tumors.
PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand 1) is a protein expressed on the surface of some mesothelioma cells. It plays an important role in downregulating the immune system by preventing the activation of T cells.
The hope is that new drugs, such as avelumab, that effectively keep PD-L1 from doing its job can activate the immune system to attack mesothelioma tumors.
Testing Avelumab in Mesothelioma Patients
As part of a study nicknamed JAVELIN, avelumab was given to more than 1,600 patients with a variety of malignancies. The new study, presented in Chicago by Dr. Hassan, involved 53 patients with unresectable pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.
All of the mesothelioma patients in the study had experienced continued growth of their cancer even after treatment with standard pemetrexed-based chemotherapy and were not candidates for surgery.
Participants were not tested for whether or not their tumors expressed PD-L1. They received the new treatment for a median of 12 weeks.
Promising Treatment Results
According to the report, 47 percent of patients experienced a stabilization of their mesothelioma tumor growth on avelumab. For just over nine percent of patients, the mesothelioma tumors actually shrunk a little bit. Together, these two figure give a disease control rate of 56.6 percent.
A primary purpose of a Phase I drug trial is to determine that the proposed drug is safe for the intended patients and avelumab passed that hurdle, as well. Although more than three-quarters of patients did experience some type of “adverse event” on avelumab, only 4 patients had serious side effects and no one died from the treatment.
“Ongoing follow-up will further characterize the durability of the clinical benefit,” Dr Hassan told the journal Oncology.
Surviving Mesothelioma will continue to follow the progress of this promising new mesothelioma treatment option.
Levitan, Dave, “Avelumab Promising in Unresectable Mesothelioma”, June 6, 2016, CancerNetwork (journal Oncology), http://www.cancernetwork.com/asco-2016-lung-cancer/avelumab-promising-unresectable-mesothelioma