Doctors in the UK have started treatment on the first patient in the trial of a new drug combination for relapsed mesothelioma.
The drug is called bemcentinib. It blocks a protein encoded by the AXL gene. People with mesothelioma tend to overexpress this protein. Studies show that this extra AXL protein might help cancer cells hide from the immune system. It might also help them spread to other parts of the body.
In the new trial, patients with relapsed mesothelioma will get a combination of bemcentinib and Keytruda (pembrolizumab). Keytruda is an immunotherapy drug. Like bemcentinib, it helps make mesothelioma cells vulnerable to immune system attack.
Animal studies and tests in lung cancer patients show that bemcentinib may help immune checkpoint inhibitors work better. The hope is that bemcentinib will enhance Keytruda’s effects.
The Problem of Relapsed Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a virulent membrane cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It is very hard to treat. Some treatments can shrink or even stop mesothelioma tumor growth. But the effect is usually temporary.
Alimta (pemetrexed) is the most popular drug for mesothelioma. Until this year, it was also the only drug. Now, the FDA says a combination of Yervoy and Opdivo may also improve mesothelioma outcomes.
But even with these powerful treatments, most patients end up facing relapsed mesothelioma. There is no approved second-line mesothelioma treatment. BerGenBio, the Norway-based makers of bemcentinib believe this drug has the potential to become one.
Trial to Include 26 Mesothelioma Patients
The trial to test Keytruda and bemcentinib for relapsed mesothelioma goes by the acronym MiST. It is a two-stage, single-arm Phase IIa clinical trial being run by the University of Leicester in the UK.
The UK still has one of the highest per capita rates of malignant mesothelioma, even though asbestos is banned. The British Lung Foundation has provided £2.5 million in funding for the study.
The study will enroll up to 26 relapsed mesothelioma patients at three UK sites. Researchers will measure how well their disease is controlled at three months. The first patient received the first dose last week.
About one in three mesothelioma patients produces excess AXL protein. The researchers say bemcentinib might help ramp up immune response and activate anti-tumor T-cells.
“We believe this trial can provide an opportunity to potentially prolong the duration of response with a combination of bemcentinib and pembrolizumab to patients who currently have no standard option of care,” BerGenBio CEO Richard Godfrey said in a statement. “Data obtained from this trial will…benefit the MPM population globally as a result of the continued use of asbestos in the developing world.”
The trial will also assess the safety and toxicity of the drug combination and the disease control rate at 6 months.
In the US, about 2,500 people receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year.
“BerGenBio Announces First Patients Dosed with Bemcentinib in Relapsed Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Investigator Sponsored Phase IIa Study”, October 7, 2020, New Release, BeGenBio, https://tools.eurolandir.com/tools/Pressreleases/GetPressRelease/?ID=3825233&lang=en-GB&companycode=no-bergen&v=