Mesothelioma Survival Rates – The University of Vermont’s study has resulted in the first-ever mesothelioma clinical trial.
Malignant mesothelioma (MM), which is linked to occupational asbestos exposure, is an aggressive cancer that arises largely from the outer lining of the lungs, with a dismal five-year survival rate of only five to ten percent. Only two medicines have been licensed for the treatment of MM, which affects approximately 3,000 people in the United States each year.
A promising new medication for mesothelioma and metastatic cancer is poised to enter a Phase I clinical trial as a result of laboratory research at the University of Vermont.
It is difficult to translate scientific discovery into a clinical trial. “It takes roughly 20 years from discovery to clinical trials,” says Dr. Randall Holcombe, head of the University of Vermont Cancer Center, “and even then, only about 1% of possible new drugs get FDA approval.”
To be in that 1%, you must have good science and significant money. Dr. Brian Cunniff, a Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department faculty member at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, identified the unique therapeutic strategy as a Ph.D. student in collaboration with his advisor, Emeriti Professor Dr. Nicholas Heintz, and UVM Alumni Dr. Kheng (Newick) Bekdache.
They were all aware that the research was persuasive. The method, which was published in PLOS ONE, identified a universal vulnerability in cancer cells that may be therapeutically exploited. “All tumor cells rely on efficient waste management mechanisms to grow and thrive; we were interfering with that,” Dr. Cunniff explained.
This ground-breaking finding was quickly rewarded with large sums of money. Dr. Cunniff was nearing the end of his post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School and planning to quit academia when he received a phone call from Dr. Heintz that altered his life. Dr. Heintz stated that the pharmaceutical company RS Oncology wanted to fund a cure for MM and had chosen their research as the vehicle to achieve it.
Mesothelioma Survival Rates
Dr. Cunniff returned to the UVM Cancer Center to continue the research, this time focusing on mesothelioma. RS Oncology donated significant money to UVM for the entire pre-clinical package, assisting the researchers in overcoming the enormous cost barrier that exists between transferring scientific findings from the bench to the bedside.
“We were thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Brian back to our department and support his work with RS Oncology,” said Dr. Debra Leonard, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “Our department places a high importance on the research produced by our investigators, and seeing that translate into patient therapies is not common.”
Dr. Cunniff and his research team, in collaboration with Wake Forest School of Medicine and RS Oncology, have been directly responsible for demonstrating the anti-cancer activity of the treatment approach they identified, as well as developing/testing a suitable formulation for human delivery over the last four and a half years.
“The medicine inhibits cells’ capacity to digest hazardous wastes, causing them to essentially choke on their own exhaust,” Dr. Cunniff explained.
This will be a “first in person” experiment to assess the safety and efficacy of this unique technique in MM patients, and it will thereafter be evaluated as a targeted therapy for other cancers.
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The clinical study will begin in late 2021 in England, with the Cunniff Lab at the University of Vermont Cancer Center serving as the lead site for translational research utilizing patient samples.
And there are reasons to be optimistic, according to Dr. Cunniff. “There is much data in pre-clinical models indicating that this technique may have broad relevance to many cancer types.” It will be impossible to completely comprehend the prospects of this strategy until we get sufficient data from the phase 1 clinical study, while there is significant optimism.”
“This is what a cancer center is all about: translating laboratory discoveries into clinical trials where they may benefit patients,” Dr. Holcombe said.