Mesothelioma may be Slowed by New Drug

Early trials of a new mesothelioma drug have given researchers hope that it may be able to slow the progression of this deadly disease in some patients.

Roughly 50 percent of mesothelioma patients lack a certain gene responsible for suppressing tumor growth. Called NF2, the gene produces a protein called merlin, which regulates another protein called focal adhesion kinase (FAK). When a person does not have NF2, merlin is not produced and FAK goes unchecked, causing mesothelioma cells to activate and metastasize.

However, a multi-center Phase I study of a compound called GSK2256098 has shown that this chemical may restore activity of NF2 in mesothelioma patients, slowing or even stopping the spread of the cancer. The study, recently presented in Dublin, Ireland at an international cancer symposium, focused on 29 patients who were given GSK2256098 twice daily. A range of dosages was used, but most patients took about 1,000 milligrams of the drug.

On average, it took more than 4 months for study participants’ mesothelioma to progress. 14 patients had a disease that was stable, 9 had progressive mesothelioma, and 3 had non-measurable disease. Three patients left before the study was complete. Among remaining patients, those who had inactivated NF2 and reduced merlin levels showed 6 months until disease progression. Since most mesothelioma patients die within a year of diagnosis, these findings are very encouraging.

“These findings are important but preliminary,” cautions Professor Jean-Charles Soria, head of early drug development at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris and an investigator in the study. “They show that merlin is a potential biomarker in mesothelioma that may enable us to identify a subset of patients who could benefit from GSK2256098 and have longer, progression-free survival. Mesothelioma is a deadly disease without many treatment options, and therefore identification of novel and effective therapies is needed.”

Current treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and each of these treatments carries significant risks to patients. Side effected noted with this new drug were mostly mild and tolerable.