New Drug for Mesothelioma Discovered in Sea Squirt

A drug which has been discovered in Caribbean sea squirts could be effective in stunting the growth of mesothelioma tumour cells.

Research which has been carried out at the Medical University of Vienna found that a toxin by the name of trabectedin, which the creature uses to defend itself against predators, could be used in the treatment of the asbestos-related disease.

Walter Berger who led the study at the university’s Institute of Cancer Research said: “It has looked very promising to this point. It’s a fascinating new substance — from its origins to its mode of action.”

The bottom-dwelling coral-like organism has been harvested by a European pharmaceutical company and had its toxin extracted to produce this new drug.

The study was published earlier this month in the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics journal and focused on the development of novel strategies for therapy-refractory cancer such as mesothelioma and other lung cancers.

In the mesothelioma trial, trabectedin effectively served as a chemotherapy-like agent which targeted DNA and delivered an immune response and also showed great synergy when combined with cisplatin, which is the form of chemotherapy which is currently used as standard.

Dr Berger said: “We found excellent activity, compared to many drugs that have been tried. Mesothelioma, as you know, is very difficult to treat. This was encouraging.”

In the preclinical study, the researchers tested trabectedin on 13 mesothelioma surgical specimens, six mesothelioma cell lines and two nonmalignant pleural tissue samples.

The drug prompted a dose-dependent cytotoxic effect on all mesothelioma cell cultures on all of the mesothelioma cell cultures but lesser effect on the nonmalignant ones.

However, it generated a much better response when combined with cisplatin, before being combined with a group of proteins that regulate cell death by inducing apoptosis.

The research particularly showed an impressive response with the sarcomatoid cell type of mesothelioma, the least common of the cell types and one of the most resistant to current therapies.

Doctors in Europe and Japan are also administering another version of the drug, known as lurbinectedin in combination with other chemotherapy drugs to attempt to treat inoperable ovarian cancer.

In an earlier study in the Lung Cancer journal, Swiss researchers found that lurbinectedin effectively reduced tumour size and also limited the side effects of chemotherapy which can often be severe.

Five sites in Italy are currently conducting the only clinical trial involving trabectedin and mesothelioma, where the early results are promising.

For all the latest news on trials surrounding mesothelioma treatments and drugs, make sure to keep checking our news page here at Asbestos Advice Helpline.

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