As researchers learn more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they have developed newer drugs that target these changes. Aptly named “targeted therapies,” these drugs block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules or “molecular targets” that are involved with the progression, growth, and spread of cancer. In addition to developing newer targeted therapies, researchers often revisit drugs that have already been FDA approved to treat certain cancers in order to evaluate their potential effects on other types of cancer.
For example, one of the most prominent targeted therapy drugs for rare and difficult-to-treat cancers such as advanced kidney cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNET), has been studied for the possible treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. The drug is known as Sutent (sunitinib malate).
Newer drugs target mesothelin—a protein found in high levels in mesothelioma cells. The drug anti-mesothelin immunotoxin (SS1P) is being studied by Roche in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and amatuximab (MORAb-009) has received orphan drug designation for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Amatuximab studies are ongoing.
A number of targeted cancer therapies have been approved by FDA to treat specific types of cancer, while others are being studied in clinical trials. Many more are in preclinical testing.
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