Clinical trials are human studies of new drugs and treatments to determine whether or not they should be approved by the FDA. Clinical trials for mesothelioma are ongoing, primarily at major medical centers around the country. Because mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, many trials are focused on ways to detect it earlier and treat it more effectively with various combinations of therapies.
Although participation in a mesothelioma trial may sound like a good way to connect with promising new treatments, not every mesothelioma patient is a candidate. Because clinical trials are established with specific goals, most have very specific guidelines as to the type of patients they are willing to treat. For example, some trials only accept patients who have received little or no benefit from other therapies, while others only take people who have not yet started any treatment.
Mesothelioma trials like all clinical trials are conducted in three phases. Phase I trials generally recruit a smaller number of participants and focus on determining safety and dosing. In Phase II trials, researchers try to determine if a drug or treatment actually has efficacy. If the treatment shows promise and is safe, its effectiveness is compared to that of existing treatments in a Phase III trial.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to being involved in a mesothelioma clinical trial. Even if a patient meets the criteria for a trial and is accepted to participate, there is no guarantee that they will receive the new treatment, since some trials require a group of participants to receive the old treatments for a basis of comparison. In addition, the time spent ‘experimenting’ in a clinical trial could be used instead to be receiving a proven existing treatment.
On the positive side, clinical trial participants often receive excellent health care since they must be monitored closely as part of the study. There is the possibility that a new treatment may offer real benefits over existing treatments. And there is the intangible benefit of at least increasing a knowledge base that may lead to better treatments in the future.
Although chemotherapy, radiation and surgery remain the primary treatments again mesothelioma, many of the newest trials are focused on therapies that are able to target the tumor cells more effectively, without harming surrounding tissues. Some of these newer drugs aim to slow tumor growth by robbing cells of vital enzymes, inhibiting their ability to replicate, or harnessing the body’s own immune system to attack them.
The National Institute of Health provides a current list of ongoing clinical trials for mesothelioma. Some of the studies going on now include:
• Studies of several new oral medications against advanced pleural mesothelioma where traditional chemotherapy has failed
• A study of an under-the-tongue spray medication for mesothelioma pain
• Several studies on the addition of a third chemotherapy drug to the standard two-drug mixture
• A study on the effectiveness of video-assisted surgery for mesothelioma tumors
• A study on the effectiveness of administering a heated chemotherapy drug in the operating room, immediately following mesothelioma surgery
• A study on a new drug, AZD2171, that may stop the growth of tumors in patients who are not candidates for surgery
• A study on the effectiveness of combining chemotherapy with Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy in mesothelioma
• Gene therapy for pleural mesothelioma
More than 30 clinical trials for mesothelioma are currently underway in the U.S. For a complete list of studies that are recruiting, locations and participation requirements, visit the National Cancer Institute.
National Cancer Institute, Clinical Trial Information. Accessed April 30, 2010.