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Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Mesothelioma immunotherapy uses medications to stimulate your body’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. This treatment can help slow the spread of mesothelioma and improve life expectancy. Clinical trials show that combining immunotherapy with chemotherapy can increase life expectancy by 29%. Learn more about immunotherapy for mesothelioma and get our help finding a specialist near you.

Medically reviewed by: Mark Levin, MD

Last updated:

What Is Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy is a new and exciting mesothelioma treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer more effectively.

Malignant mesothelioma cells can sometimes sneak past the body’s defenses and go undetected. Mesothelioma immunotherapy aims to stimulate the patient’s immune system to find cancer cells and destroy them.

Key Facts on Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

  • Nivolumab (Opdivo®) and ipilimumab (Yervoy®) are two immunotherapy drugs approved as initial (first-line) treatments for mesothelioma.
  • On May 29, 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted priority review for a new approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) as a first-line treatment for mesothelioma in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Keytruda is already approved as a second-line (follow-up) treatment for mesothelioma when other treatments have failed or stopped working.
  • Researchers continue to study other types of immunotherapy for pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma in clinical trials.

Immunotherapy is typically used in combination with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, depending on the stage of the patient’s mesothelioma cancer and other factors.

Download our Free Immunotherapy Guide now to get essential information about this cutting-edge treatment and how it could help you.

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  • When it’s used
  • Types of therapies
  • What to expect

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How Does Immunotherapy Treat Mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy enhances the immune system’s ability to fight mesothelioma cancer more effectively.

It does this in two ways:

  1. Making the immune system stronger so it can better fight mesothelioma cells
  2. Identifying and attacking parts of cancer cells called receptors that help these cells hide from the immune system

“Immunotherapy has shown promise in supporting mesothelioma patients by boosting the immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells. It’s like giving your body an extra set of tools to combat the disease more effectively.”

- Quote from Jenna Tozzi, RN, Mesothelioma Hope Nurse and Patient Advocate

Active vs. Passive Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

There are two forms of mesothelioma immunotherapy treatment:

  • Active immunotherapy stimulates the patient’s own immune system to attack mesothelioma cells. Examples include vaccines, adoptive cell therapies, and most checkpoint inhibitors.
  • Passive immunotherapy involves administering lab-grown antibodies (proteins that target cancer cells) to enhance the immune system’s ability to combat mesothelioma. Examples include monoclonal antibodies and the checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi® (durvalumab).

Each approach to immunotherapy has its benefits and drawbacks. Your mesothelioma doctor can tell you whether active or passive therapy is best for you.

Who Does Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Work Best For?

Patients can receive mesothelioma immunotherapy:

  • Right after a diagnosis
  • In combination with surgery
  • If surgery isn’t an option
  • When other treatments have failed

Patients may also be able to access newer immunotherapy medications being tested in clinical trials for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

“We did three sessions of chemo, and that wasn’t doing anything. We started immunotherapy, and after several weeks some of the cancer started to shrink a little bit.”

- Quote from Jimmy, pleural mesothelioma survivor who received immunotherapy

How Can Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma Help Me?

The main benefit of mesothelioma immunotherapy is that it can potentially improve your life expectancy.

Additional benefits of immunotherapy may include:

  • Causing fewer and more mild side effects than chemotherapy
  • Helping your immune system fight cancer even after you’ve stopped treatment
  • Increasing your odds of remission (where all signs of cancer disappear)
  • Shrinking tumors and preventing your cancer from spreading

As researchers continue to study the benefits of immunotherapy, doctors hope that more patients may be able to access this treatment and become long-term survivors.

Immunotherapy Mesothelioma Success Rate

The CheckMate 743 clinical trial demonstrated that the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy improved median overall survival to 18.1 months compared to 14.1 months with chemotherapy alone.

Additionally, about 23% of patients treated with these drugs were still alive after 3 years​ (a figure known as the survival rate). Even more impressive, 8 of the patients had their cancer go into complete remission.

Immunotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma is also showing success in clinical trials. A 2023 case study found that one peritoneal mesothelioma patient was able to achieve remission after two years of treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda®).

See if immunotherapy can help you live longer — find a mesothelioma specialist today with our Free Doctor Match service.

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4 Types of Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

There are four main types of mesothelioma immunotherapy, and each of them works in a different way. Learn about these immunotherapies below to help you or a loved one make informed decisions about your treatment plan.

1. Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy that enhance the immune system’s ability to fight mesothelioma​.

These drugs target checkpoint proteins like PD-1 and CTLA-4 on the surface of T cells (a type of white blood cell) that dampen the body’s immune response to cancer and keep it from doing its job as effectively.

When these checkpoints are turned off (inhibited), the immune system is better able to target and destroy mesothelioma cells.

Examples of checkpoint inhibitors used to treat mesothelioma include:

Opdivo and Yervoy are FDA approved first-line checkpoint inhibitors for patients with pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) that can’t be surgically removed. Keytruda is approved in some cases as a second-line treatment.

Researchers continue to study the other checkpoint inhibitors listed above as potential mesothelioma immunotherapy treatments.

“Immunotherapy and the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy was really a game changer. It’s the first sort of hope we’ve had for this more aggressive disease.”

- Quote from Dr. Andrea Wolf, mesothelioma specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital

2. Cancer Vaccines

Cancer vaccines work by helping the immune system recognize cancer cells more effectively.

Notable examples of mesothelioma vaccines include:

  • CRS-207, a vaccine made with listeria bacteria shown to produce an immune response against mesothelioma
  • ONCOS-102, a vaccine developed by Targovax that shows promise in combination with chemotherapy
Did You Know?

Poly-ICLC is another vaccine being investigated as a treatment for mesothelioma. Dr. Andrea Wolf of Mount Sinai Hospital is leading a clinical trial testing whether injecting tumors with this synthetic vaccine before surgery will improve survival. The first phase of the trial should be completed in August 2024.

3. Monoclonal Antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made molecules that can bind to specific targets on cancer cells. These antibodies can either stop cancer from growing or help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Monoclonal antibodies used in mesothelioma treatment include:

  • Amatuximab, an anti-CTLA-4 monoclonal antibody that helps enhance the immune response against cancer cells. It is often used in combination with other immunotherapies like Imfinzi.
  • Tremelimumab (Imjudo®), an antibody that targets mesothelin, which is a protein that mesothelioma cells make too much of. By binding to mesothelin, Imjudo helps mark cancer cells for attack by the immune system.

According to a clinical trial published in Clinical Cancer Research, 90% of pleural mesothelioma patients had their cancer stabilize after receiving amatuximab plus the chemotherapy drugs pemetrexed and cisplatin. This means their tumors didn’t grow or spread during treatment.

4. Adoptive Cell Therapy

Adoptive cell therapy is a treatment where doctors collect a patient’s immune cells (usually T cells) and modify them outside the body to make them better at fighting mesothelioma. The most well-known example is CAR T cell therapy.

CAR T cell therapy involves:

  • Drawing blood from the patient
  • Extracting their T cells with a special machine
  • Genetically modifying them to carry chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that specifically target mesothelioma cells
  • Giving the modified CAR T cells back to the patient through an IV infusion to help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells​

Since this therapy uses the patient’s own cells, it minimizes the risk of their immune system rejecting them.

Immunotherapy’s Role in Mesothelioma Treatment Plans

Doctor consults with a patient about mesothelioma immunotherapy options

Cancer immunotherapy is poised to play a key role in a larger multimodal treatment approach to mesothelioma. Multimodal mesothelioma therapy is when two or more treatments are used together to help control the spread of cancer.

Learn more about the use of immunotherapy with chemotherapy and surgery and how it has the potential to become a new standard of mesothelioma care.

Chemotherapy With Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Chemotherapy involves injecting patients with specific medications to help kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) throughout the body.

Average Life Expectancy With Treatment
  • Chemo- immunotherapy: 20.4 months
  • Chemotherapy alone: 12.1 months

New studies suggest that combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy — known as chemoimmunotherapy — may be the best way to increase survival in patients whose cancer is unresectable (unable to be removed through surgery).

For example, the PrE0505 clinical trial found that patients who received chemoimmunotherapy lived over 8 months longer than those who only received chemotherapy.

Surgery With Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy can be used as an additional treatment before or after a patient has mesothelioma surgery to help the body kill any cancer cells that may try to grow back.

A Baylor College of Medicine clinical trial found that treating pleural mesothelioma patients with the immune checkpoint inhibitors Imfinzi and/or Imjudo about 3 weeks before surgery led to longer survival time. Additionally, more than 1 in 3 patients had their tumors shrink.

In April 2024, Frontiers in Oncology reported the case of a 58-year-old pleural mesothelioma patient who entered complete remission after 5 cycles of Opdivo and Yervoy before surgery. Six months after surgery, he’s still alive with no signs of the cancer returning or spreading.

Get our Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide to read about patients who are thriving many years after their diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Side Effects

While not everyone will experience side effects from mesothelioma immunotherapy, some people do. The type and severity of these side effects can vary depending on the specific type of immunotherapy used and your overall health.

Common mesothelioma immunotherapy side effects include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation, rash, or itching

If you get mesothelioma immunotherapy, you’ll be closely monitored for any side effects and may be given anti-nausea medications or steroids to reduce inflammation. Your doctor may choose to stop treatment if you have a serious reaction to a particular immunotherapy drug.

Learn more about the benefits and potential side effects of immunotherapies in our Free Immunotherapy Guide.

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  • Types of therapies
  • What to expect

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How Much Does Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma Cost?

According to an article in Frontiers in Oncology, the cost of Opdivo and Yervoy can exceed $292,000 a year. Reuters has reported it costs an average of $150,000 per year for other immune checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda and Imfinzi.

At Mesothelioma Hope, we understand the high costs of immunotherapy and other treatments can be a significant burden for cancer patients. This is why we’re committed to helping you navigate the financial challenges that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Contact us for free to learn about veterans benefits, asbestos claims, and other ways to access compensation that can help pay for your treatment.

Find Doctors for Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Near You

When it comes to mesothelioma immunotherapy, having the right medical team by your side is crucial. Mesothelioma Hope can help you find doctors who have expertise in immunotherapy.

We can also help you:

  • Access the latest immunotherapy drugs in clinical trials
  • Connect with other patients receiving immunotherapy
  • Learn what to expect from mesothelioma immunotherapy sessions
  • Pursue financial assistance for treatment, travel, and out-of-pocket expenses

Call us now at (866) 608-8933 or use our Free Doctor Match service to get connected with a Patient Advocate.

Mesothelioma and Immunotherapy FAQs

Can mesothelioma be treated with immunotherapy?

Yes, immunotherapy can be used to treat mesothelioma. Immunotherapy works with the body’s immune system to find, target, and kill cancer cells.

Several immunotherapy drugs have been studied for mesothelioma. These include checkpoint inhibitors like pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo), sometimes used alone or in combination with other drugs like ipilimumab (Yervoy).

Checkpoint inhibitors work by targeting specific proteins that help cancer cells hide from the immune system.

What drugs are used for immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy drugs for mesothelioma include:

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors like Opdivo, Yervoy, and Keytruda
  • Monoclonal antibodies such as amatuximab and Imjudo
  • Vaccines like CRS-207 and ONCOS-102

Contact our Patient Advocates today to see if you or a loved one could benefit from one of these immunotherapies.

How effective is immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy drugs — particularly immune checkpoint inhibitors like Opdivo and Yervoy — are promising treatment options for mesothelioma. These drugs have helped many patients live longer and kept their cancer from spreading or getting worse.

Some mesothelioma patients have even had their cancer go into remission after receiving immunotherapy in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, and other treatments.

A mesothelioma specialist can determine if immunotherapy could be a helpful addition to your treatment plan.

What is the life expectancy of someone with immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Patients who receive the immunotherapy drugs Opdivo and Yervoy without surgery have an average life expectancy of 18.1 months, according to results from the CheckMate 743 clinical trial.

Clinical trials show that patients who receive combination immunotherapy with chemotherapy or surgery (an approach known as multimodal therapy) have longer life expectancies.

How long does immunotherapy work for mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy can work for several months to several years. The patients in the CheckMate 743 trial were still benefiting from Opdivo and Yervoy 3 years after starting treatment in 2018.

You can continue to receive immunotherapy as long your cancer doesn’t progress and you’re tolerating the drug(s) well without any severe side effects.

What is the success rate of immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Here are some key points about the success rates of immunotherapy in treating mesothelioma:

  • Combination immunotherapies such as Opdivo and Yervoy have shown higher response rates. In the CheckMate 743 trial, the combination demonstrated an overall response rate of around 40%, which means almost half of patients had their tumors shrink or disappear as a result of the treatment.
  • The CheckMate 743 trial showed a median overall survival of 18.1 months with the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy compared to 14.1 months with chemotherapy.
  • For treatments using single-agent PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors, patients usually go about 4-6 months progression-free before their cancer starts growing again.

These results highlight the potential of immunotherapy to significantly improve outcomes for mesothelioma patients, offering hope for extended survival and better quality of life.

Dr. Mark LevinReviewed by:Mark Levin, MD

Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Mark Levin, MD, has over 30 years of experience in academic and community hematology and oncology. In addition to serving as Chief or Director at four different teaching institutions throughout his life, he is still a practicing clinician, has taught and designed formal education programs, and has authored numerous publications in various fields related to hematology and oncology.

Dr. Mark Levin is an independently paid medical reviewer.

  • Board Certified Oncologist
  • 30+ Years Experience
  • Published Medical Author
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