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Promising Immunotherapy Drug Fails to Improve Mesothelioma Survival

26133630_mesothelinThere is some disappointing news today on the use of the new immunotherapy drug tremelimumab to fight treatment-resistant malignant pleural mesothelioma.

The drug’s manufacturer, AstraZeneca, has announced that, when used by itself, the drug failed to improve survival in patients who had run out of mesothelioma treatment options.

Still, it may not be the end of the road for tremelimumab and mesothelioma.

Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy drugs like tremelimumab, which are designed to harness the power of a mesothelioma patient’s immune system to fight their cancer, are one of the most promising new types of cancer therapies.

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 was supposed to stimulate the immune system of patients with mesothelioma to attack their tumors.

Based on some promising early tests, the FDA granted orphan drug status to tremelimumab for the treatment of mesothelioma in 2015.

What Was at Stake?

The trial to test the effectiveness of tremelimumab as a stand-alone drug for mesothelioma was called DETERMINE.

To participate in the study, patients had to have unresectable malignant mesothelioma. These patients, all of whom had failed to respond to other types of mesothelioma therapy, received 10 mg/kg of tremelimumab.

“We are disappointed that tremelimumab monotherapy did not demonstrate a survival benefit in this patient population with no approved medicines beyond first-line treatment,” AstraZeneca’s senior vice president Robert Iannone said in a statement.

What Happens Next?

But tremelimumab is not yet out of the running as a potential future treatment for pleural mesothelioma.

Although the drug failed to improve mesothelioma survival when it was given by itself, it is still being tested as an add-on drug to another investigational immunotherapy treatment called durvalumab.

A new study suggests that the two medicines may work synergistically to fight several types of tumors, including non-small cell lung cancer, which has similarities to pleural mesothelioma.

Some scientists believe that tremelimumab also has the potential to boost the effectiveness of mesothelioma chemotherapy.


“AstraZeneca reports top-line result of tremelimumab monotherapy trial in mesothelioma”, February 29, 2016, News Release, AstraZeneca website

Antonia, S, et al, “Safey and antitumour activity of durvalumab plus tremelimumab in a non-small cell lung cancer: a multicentre phase 1b study”, February 5, 2016, The Lancet Oncology

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