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Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy

There are currently two targeted therapies for mesothelioma that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Opdivo® (nivolumab) and Yervoy® (ipilimumab). Studies show that these therapies can kill cancer cells or slow their growth in some patients. Mesothelioma Hope can help you learn if you’re eligible for mesothelioma targeted therapy and other emerging treatments.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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What Is Targeted Therapy?

Targeted therapy is a specialized type of cancer treatment that focuses on specific molecules or proteins that are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, which affects both cancer cells and healthy cells, targeted therapies aim to attack only the cancer cells while minimizing harm to normal cells.

These therapies have shown promise in managing mesothelioma and have been a focus of ongoing research and clinical trials.

However, it’s important to note that not all mesothelioma cases can be treated with targeted therapy. You may have to undergo specific genetic or biomarker testing to find out if you’re eligible.

The best way to determine whether you’re a good candidate for targeted therapy is to speak with a specialist. Use our Free Doctor Match to find a mesothelioma specialist near you.

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How Does Targeted Therapy Treat Mesothelioma?

Targeted therapy treats malignant mesothelioma by isolating cancer cells and slowing their growth. It accomplishes this in three main ways.

1. Targeting Proteins

Healthy cells only divide when they receive signals to do so. When the body needs new cells, signals bind to proteins on the surfaces of healthy cells, telling them to divide.

In contrast, cancer cells have modified proteins on their surface that cause them to divide even if signals are not present. Targeted therapies can stop these proteins from telling cells to divide, causing mesothelioma cancer cells to grow and spread slower.

For example, Yervoy targets the CTLA-4 protein to encourage the growth of T cells, which are immune cells that attack cancerous cells. Similarly, Opdivo targets the PD-L1 protein to prevent cancer cells from hiding from T cells.

2. Enhancing the Immune System

Mesothelioma treatment with targeted therapy can make it easier for your immune system to locate and destroy cancer cells. Targeted treatments can also strengthen your immune system to kill cancer cells more effectively.

These types of treatments are known as immunotherapy, a type of biological therapy that uses substances made from living organisms to kill cancer cells.

Immunotherapy drugs fall into two categories:

  • Anti-mesothelin drugs boost the immune response to mesothelin, an antigen that can be found in most malignant pleural mesothelioma cells. An antigen is any substance that can trigger an immune response against that substance.
  • Checkpoint inhibitors block immune checkpoints, which are regulators of the immune system that can diminish the body’s ability to attack cancer cells. Examples of checkpoint inhibitors include pembrolizumab (Keytruda®), nivolumab (Opdivo®), and atezolizumab (Tecentriq®).

Download our Free Immunotherapy Guide to learn more about this type of targeted mesothelioma treatment.

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  • Types of therapies
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3. Working With Other Therapies to Improve Survival

Many targeted therapies are combined with other treatments to improve patient outcomes.

For example, some treatment plans combine monoclonal antibodies (a type of targeted therapy that boosts the body’s immune response) with cell-killing substances such as chemotherapy drugs, radiation, and toxins.

When these monoclonal antibodies stick to targets on cancer cells’ surfaces, the cells will absorb the cell-killing substances, resulting in apoptosis (cell death).

Can Targeted Therapy Cure Mesothelioma?

There is currently no cure for mesothelioma. However, new drugs and emerging treatments such as mesothelioma targeted therapy may be able to extend your life expectancy and quality of life.

For example, a 2022 study published in The Lancet Oncology journal tested if a targeted therapy called tazemetostat (Tazverik®) could prevent pleural mesothelioma from spreading. At 12 weeks in, more than 50% of patients treated saw their cancer temporarily stabilize. Over 30% continued to have stable disease after 24 weeks, which meant their cancer neither improved nor worsened.

“This is the first targeted therapy we’ve seen to have a real effect on slowing or stopping pleural mesothelioma.”
Dr. Marjorie Zauderer, Mesothelioma Doctor and Researcher

Types of Targeted Therapy

There are two main types of mesothelioma targeted therapy:

  1. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created proteins that enlist your body’s immune system against cancer cells. They can enhance, restore, mimic, or modify the immune system’s attack on cancer and other unwanted cells.
  2. Small-molecule drugs can enter cancer cells to destroy them. They can easily breach cells due to their low molecular weight. Once inside cells, they can affect proteins and other molecules, leading to apoptosis. Examples of small-molecule drugs include proteasome inhibitors and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Eligibility for Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy

Mesothelioma targeted therapy drugs generally have fewer side effects than other mesothelioma treatments, including first-line chemotherapy drugs like carboplatin.

However, they may cause certain side effects, including autoimmune reactions. They may also interfere with common medicines, supplements, and vaccinations.

We can help determine if you’re eligible for targeted therapy. Call (866) 608-8933 today to speak with one of our knowledgeable Patient Advocates.

How Targeted Therapy Affects Mesothelioma Tumors

Targeted therapy offers a promising approach for treating mesothelioma tumors. It can specifically target molecules or proteins involved in their growth and survival with the goal of slowing cancer progression.

Learn more about how mesothelioma targeted therapy can affect tumor growth below.

1. Stopping Signals That Cause Tumor Growth

Mesothelioma tumors need to form new blood vessels in order to grow beyond a certain size. This process is known as angiogenesis. Targeted therapies called angiogenesis inhibitors can interfere with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptors to prevent new blood vessels from forming and tumors from getting bigger.

Without new blood vessels, tumors stay small. Angiogenic inhibitors can also cause blood vessels to die, causing tumors to shrink.

Bevacizumab (Avastin®) is an angiogenesis inhibitor. Doctors and cancer care teams often prescribe bevacizumab combined with chemotherapy drugs like pemetrexed and cisplatin as a first-line treatment for unresectable mesothelioma (which can’t be removed with surgery).

2. Sending Cytotoxic Substances to Mesothelioma Cells

Mesothelioma treatment with targeted therapy can also slow mesothelioma tumor growth by sending cytotoxic (cell-killing) substances to cells. Examples of these substances include chemotherapy drugs, toxins, and radiation.

3. Causing Mesothelioma Tumor Cell Death

Cancer cells have ways to avoid the dying process, leading to disease progression. Targeted therapies can prevent this by causing mesothelioma cancer cells to go through apoptosis.

Oncologists may use additional treatments after or before targeted therapy to treat tumors, including neoadjuvant chemotherapy (given before surgery), mesothelioma surgery, and radiation therapy.

What to Expect During Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy

Your experience with mesothelioma targeted therapy will depend on the type of therapy you receive. Your overall health and individual response to treatments may also influence how you react to targeted therapy.

Monoclonal antibodies are usually administered intravenously through a needle in a vein. You must undergo monoclonal antibody targeted treatments at a cancer center or hospital.

On the other hand, small-molecule drugs are administered as capsules or pills you swallow. This means you can take them on the go or at home.

Treatment frequency depends on your disease progression, your overall health, how your body responds to treatments, and the specific drugs you’re prescribed.

That said, most mesothelioma patients receive targeted treatments daily, weekly, or monthly. However, some targeted therapies are delivered in cycles, just as with chemotherapy.

Benefits of Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy

Cancer research has revealed several benefits of targeted therapy for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

These benefits include:

  • Blocking cancer cells from growing: Mesothelioma treatment with targeted therapy can prevent disease progression, as the cancer cells won’t be able to grow or spread.
  • Having fewer effects on healthy cells: Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapy damages, weakens, and destroys cancer cells in very specific ways. This results in lower toxicity and reduced damage to healthy cells.
  • Treating unresectable cancer: Targeted therapy can destroy mesothelioma tumors that are impossible or difficult to remove through surgery.
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Side Effects of Targeted Therapy for Mesothelioma Patients

Side effects of targeted therapy vary depending on the patient’s health and the type of targeted therapy prescribed.

Potential side effects of mesothelioma treatment with targeted therapy include:

  • Autoimmune reactions
  • Blood clotting or bleeding issues
  • Changes to your hair, skin, and nails
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry skin
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Heart damage (cardiotoxicity)
  • Interstitial lung disease (pulmonary fibrosis)
  • Loss of hair color
  • Neurologic and heart rhythm changes
  • Rashes
  • Tiredness

You can help reduce the severity of any side effects by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking can also reduce potential negative reactions.

Risks and Dangers of Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy

Mesothelioma treatment with targeted therapy is generally safe. However, some people may experience serious side effects, including colon perforations (holes that require surgery), severe bleeding, blood clots, kidney problems, heart problems, and slow wound healing.

There is also a risk of developing serious allergic reactions while getting the drugs through an infusion, which can cause low blood pressure and breathing problems. Talk to a mesothelioma doctor to learn more about the risks and dangers of mesothelioma targeted therapy.

Need help finding a doctor near you? Sign up for our Free Doctor Match program to get connected with mesothelioma specialists in your area.

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How Does Targeted Therapy Affect Mesothelioma Survival?

Targeted therapy is an emerging therapy, so there are limited studies about its effect on mesothelioma survival rates.

However, some research suggests that targeted therapy can extend patients’ survival time.

Did You Know?

According to the American Cancer Society, targeted therapy has been found to help pleural mesothelioma patients live longer when given along with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin (Platinol®) and pemetrexed (Almita®) as compared to chemotherapy alone.

Cost of Targeted Therapy for Mesothelioma

The cost of targeted therapy depends on your insurance plan, your disease progression, and which drugs are prescribed. However, without insurance, it may cost tens of thousands of dollars or more to get certain targeted treatments.

If your insurance doesn’t cover targeted therapy, consider hiring a mesothelioma lawyer to determine your options for mesothelioma compensation. If you are eligible, your lawyer can file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the companies responsible for the asbestos exposure that caused your cancer.

Compensation from a successful lawsuit can pay for your medical fees, pain and suffering, and other losses associated with your mesothelioma diagnosis. Call us today at (866) 608-8933 to see if you qualify for financial assistance.

Where Can I Find Targeted Therapy for Mesothelioma?

Comprehensive cancer centers across the nation have access to a range of advanced treatment options, including targeted therapies.

Examples of cancer centers that offer targeted therapy for mesothelioma include:

Find Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy Programs

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis can be challenging for patients and their loved ones.

If you are interested in receiving mesothelioma targeted therapy, our team of Patient Advocates are here to help. Whether it’s getting you in touch with specialists in your area or helping you enroll in clinical trials for emerging therapies, we’re committed to helping patients and their loved ones navigate their mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment journey.

Call us at (866) 608-8933 or fill out our contact form to speak with a Patient Advocate.

Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy FAQs

What is the survival rate of targeted therapy?

According to a 2021 study published in the journal Nature Medicine, the 1-year survival of mesothelioma patients who remained cancer-free following targeted therapy treatment was 18.2%.

All of the mesothelioma patients in this study were treated with the targeted therapy drug Imfinzi® (durvalumab) and chemotherapy, and were unable to get surgery.

Is targeted therapy for mesothelioma better than chemotherapy?

Mesothelioma targeted therapy generally has fewer negative effects than chemotherapy. This is because it has fewer effects on healthy cells. In contrast, chemotherapy affects all fast-growing cells, including healthy, noncancerous cells.

However, targeted therapy comes with potential risks and dangers, including allergic reactions, heart problems, and slow wound healing. Be sure to consult your specialist to see whether targeted therapy is a good fit for you.

Is mesothelioma targeted therapy covered by health insurance?

Some insurance plans cover mesothelioma targeted therapy and treatments for other types of cancer, but they usually do not cover the total amount.

If you cannot pay for your targeted therapy, reach out to Mesothelioma Hope for a free case review. You may be owed compensation that you can use to pay for your cancer treatments.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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References
  1. American Cancer Society. (2018, November 16). Targeted therapy for malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/malignant-mesothelioma/treating/targeted-therapy.html
  2. Canadian Cancer Society. (n.d.). Targeted therapy. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://cancer.ca/en/treatments/treatment-types/targeted-therapy
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 14). Targeted therapy. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22733-targeted-therapy
  4. Forde, P., Anagnostou, V., Sun, Z., Dahlberg, S., Kindler H., Niknafs, N., et al. (2021, November 8). Durvalumab with platinum-pemetrexed for unresectable pleural mesothelioma: survival, genomic and immunologic analyses from the phase 2 PrE0505 trial. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01541-0
  5. Hsu, HJ., Tung, CP., Yu, CM. et al. (2021, July 29). Eradicating mesothelin-positive human gastric and pancreatic tumors in xenograft models with optimized anti-mesothelin antibody–drug conjugates from synthetic antibody libraries. Sci Rep 11, 15430. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-94902-1#citeas
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2019, November 21). Monoclonal antibody drugs for cancer: How they work. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/monoclonal-antibody/art-20047808
  7. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Definition of antigen. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/antigen
  8. National Cancer Institute. (2019, September 24). Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy
  9. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Small-molecule drug. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/small-molecule-drug
  10. National Cancer Institute. (2022, May 31). Targeted Therapy to Treat Cancer. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/targeted-therapies
  11. Zauderer, M. G., Szlosarek, P. W., et al. (2022, June 23). EZH2 inhibitor tazemetostat in patients with relapsed or refractory, BAP1-inactivated malignant pleural mesothelioma: a multicentre, open-label, phase 2 study. The Lancet. Oncology, 23(6), 758–767. Retrieved June 6, 2024, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35588752/
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