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About Immunotherapy

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Immunotherapy and Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses (its immune system) to fight cancer. In recent years, immunotherapy treatments for mesothelioma have been available through clinical trials and have shown promising results. Many doctors are now using immunotherapy drugs as treatment for mesothelioma.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and would like to learn more about emerging treatments like immunotherapy, our team of mesothelioma advocates can provide more information about immunotherapy or help connect you to clinical trials or physicians.

How Immunotherapy Works

Normally the body’s immune system would recognize that mesothelioma cells are “foreign” and would quickly attempt to kill them. Mesothelioma tumors, however, grow quickly and metastasize (spread) at a high rate, making it difficult for the immune system to attack. Immunotherapy provides a boost in the immune system, which makes it stronger and helps it target mesothelioma cells more effectively. These “targeted treatments” may be beneficial because they only attack the mesothelioma cells and cause no unintended damage to healthy cells.

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Immunotherapy is now FDA approved for treating Mesothelioma

There are several immunotherapy drugs in current mesothelioma clinical trials or being used for treatment:

  • Ipilimumab (Yervoy)*

  • Nivolumab (Opdivo)*

  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)*

  • Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)

  • Tremelimumab

  • Bavencio (Avelumab)

  • Sunitinib Malate (Sutent)

  • Bevacizumab

  • Emactuzumab

  • Nintedanib

*FDA approved immunotherapy drugs for treating mesothelioma

Benefits of Immunotherapy

The main advantage of this type of treatment is that it only targets mesothelioma cells and, in doing so, minimizes damage to healthy cells. Less damage to healthy cells means that a patient might experience fewer side effects. This allows patients who are not in the best overall health to receive treatments that may improve their survival time.

Fewer Side Effects

Specifically targeting mesothelioma cells may allow healthy cells to remain unharmed by the drug.

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Improved Prognosis

Patients may experience longer survival times. Results may even be more effective when combined with chemotherapy or administered post-surgery.

Immunotherapy Approaches for Mesothelioma

There are two approaches researchers take when they develop an immunotherapy treatment: active or passive. Whether an immunotherapy treatment is considered active or passive depends on how it is developed and administered to the patient.

Active Immunotherapy

Actively stimulates the immune system to attack mesothelioma cells. It uses special triggers (antigens) that are injected into the body to set off the immune system’s attack on foreign cancer cells.

Passive Immunotherapy

Uses compounds created in the lab to attack the mesothelioma tumor directly. This type of immunotherapy is called passive because, unlike active immunotherapy, it doesn’t directly stimulate the immune system to kill cancer cells. Instead, special compounds created by researchers attack mesothelioma cancer cells directly and have a passive effect on the immune system’s strength, meaning the immune system is not weakened.

Types of Immunotherapy

There are several types of immunotherapy treatments currently being tested in clinical trials or being used by treaters. Researchers use each type to help patients fight mesothelioma. There are four types of immunotherapy treatments showing promise:

Monoclonal Antibodies

These molecules are made to target antigens on mesothelioma tumor cells. Monoclonal antibodies may help stop the growth of mesothelioma in a few different ways: blocking the ability of mesothelioma cells to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body, finding and killing cancer cells directly, and/or delivering cancer-killing medicine to cancer cells.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

These work by blocking the signaling molecules on cancer cells. The molecules send signals to help to regulate (turn off and on) immune system responses. Mesothelioma cancer cells usually block these signals and make it very difficult for the immune system to attack rapidly multiplying cancer cells.

Therapeutic Cancer Vaccines

These vaccines may carry modified antigens into a patient’s body using a virus or bacteria. The immune system recognizes the antigen in the cancer vaccine as a signal and is stimulated to attack any mesothelioma cells carrying that specific antigen.

Adoptive T-Cell Transfer

Defines when specialists remove T-cells (cells that help kill viruses and cancer cells) from the patient’s own body and modify them to boost their strength. The T-cells are then given back to the patient to strengthen the immune system’s anti-cancer response.