Mesothelioma is a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose and treat. Because this rare cancer often isn’t discovered until it has already progressed to a later stage, finding an effective treatment plan can be a challenge. While patients have the option of more standard treatments like chemotherapy or surgery, more patients have begun to seek clinical trials and a more experimental treatment option.
Immunotherapy has emerged as a promising new treatment option for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma and many other cancers. For UK mesothelioma patient Mavis Nye, an immunotherapy clinical trial helped change her original prognosis of just 3 months into being in remission for over 200 days.
The Importance of Clinical Trials for Mesothelioma
Mavis believes clinical trials are the only way for mesothelioma patients to receive effective treatment. When faced with such a tough diagnosis, many patients receive palliative treatment more so than striving for remission. In the UK, the standard treatment for mesothelioma is a chemotherapy called Alimta. But after years of this treatment, Mavis’ tumors began to grow again.
“My oncologist said she had no more treatment options for me as I was so toxic after four years and four lines of chemotherapy.”—Mavis Nye
At this point in her disease, Mavis could no longer walk without a stick or walking frame to support her. She had gone through chemotherapy multiple times, as well as tried to participate in a few clinical trials. The first time her tumors grew, Mavis participated in the NGR-hTNF clinical trial at Maidstone, which specifically targeted tumor blood vessels. Unfortunately, this trial didn’t work for Mavis or she received placebo.
Her oncologist went back to standard chemotherapy which worked again for a while. But when her next scan showed tumor growth, it was clear they needed another option. Because her organs were so toxic from chemotherapy – one of the common side effects of this treatment – most National Health Service Hospitals wouldn’t consider Mavis for a Phase I trial. Luckily, the Royal Marsden Hospital took the chance and after some testing, Mavis was accepted into their trial testing Keytruda (pembrolizumab) on a variety of cancer patients.
“I was referred to the Marsden by my oncologist, and was offered the MSD Trial MK3475-28. I grabbed it by both hands as I was so near death,” Mavis explained.
Keytruda is a checkpoint inhibitor that enables immune cells to recognize the threat of cancer cells, and thus attack and kill them. So far, Keytruda has been FDA approved for non-small cell lung cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. But studies and trials like the one Mavis participated in have shown great promise for its potential in mesothelioma patients, too.
Immunotherapy Provides Hope for Patients
Once she was part of the trial, Mavis said her treatment became a breeze. Unlike some side effects she faced from chemotherapy, Mavis didn’t experience any sickness or neuropathy from Keytruda. The only effects she had to deal with were dry skin and constipation. But for the results, these minor setbacks were worth it.
“You live normal life at last,” said Mavis. “Within a week, I was walking with aid.”
As she was going through the trial, Mavis had to travel every three weeks to the Royal Marsden Hospital for her infusion. The treatment would only take about an hour, and then she’d be on her way home. Mavis was part of this clinical trial for two years. Though she faced a 130 mile round trip for each visit, the results for Mavis were priceless.
“My meso shrunk and shrunk until I was complete responsive by the end of the trial. I have been in remission for 235 days,” Mavis explained. For now she doesn’t have to go through anymore treatment, but has follow-up scans every two months. “If it does come back, I can have the drug for another year. I’m happy with that as a backup.”
Mavis isn’t the only mesothelioma patient to face positive results and hope from Keytruda. It’s an exciting new treatment for this rare cancer that will hopefully see more improvement and success as research continues. With projects like the Cancer Moonshot focusing heavily on immunotherapy, there’s a lot of hope for a future with more effective treatment and even one day a cure.