Immunotherapy: boosting the immune system to fight rare cancers

Immunotherapy: how does it work and what do we know so far?

Immunotherapy has emerged as a powerful tool in the treatment of multiple cancers and those suffering from rare cancers stand to benefit the most. Patients with rare cancers often face a poor prognosis and difficult, limited courses of treatment to help them overcome the odds since research into them often lags behind more prominent diseases. For example, malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer, gives patients on average just 15 months to live after diagnosis. This cancer develops in the lining of organs, with three types affecting the lungs, peritoneum or heart cavity. Each type typically requires multimodal treatment with a patient life expectancy of five to ten years. The long latency period of this environmental cancer, combined with the general symptoms it presents, often leaves patients with few options and little time to act. With the introduction of drug therapies and clinical trials targeting both CTLA4 and PDL-1, patients have been given opportunities to join studies that specifically target mesothelioma and potentially receive treatment that would otherwise be impossible or too late.

Clinical trials and new drug therapies targeting checkpoint inhibitors are advancing the entire cancer treatment field by opening treatment across cancers, rather than restricting to a particular type. PDL-1 and related targets have shown promise not only for treatment of lung cancer, but also for pleural mesothelioma, which also presents in the lungs. Pembrolizumab, or Keytruda, has proven to be successful in treatment of mesothelioma, creating another option for those whom the standard treatment of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have not shown results. Therapies like Keytruda are becoming studied more widely and providing patients more access and opportunity to join clinical trials as a last resort. The efficacy and broad applicability of this treatment are leading to innovation and improvements to the standard of mesothelioma treatment.

Immunotherapy is already an alternative for common invasive cancer treatments

In a study being conducted out of Baylor University, clinicians are leading a trial using inhibitor immunotherapy as a neoadjuvant treatment, rather than a final option. The study is investigating both pembrolizumab and tremelimumab, which targets CTLA4. Dr. Bryan Burt and his team are utilizing these drug therapies before the standard surgical options and radiation. Aiming to increase efficacy of surgical solutions and patient outcome, immunotherapy for rare cancers is becoming a more viable option, providing much-needed hope and treatments for patients.

With this study and others, immunotherapy is poised to transform rare cancer treatment and provide hope for patients.

 If you'd like to learn more about the the impact of immunotherapy, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website   here.