Malignant mesothelioma sufferers may find relief in the form of a vaccine. British scientists at Liverpool University are researching the effectiveness of a vaccine studied on pancreatic patients. Dubbed the “TeloVac jab,” the treatment is part of a set of new drugs that use the body’s own defense system to kill cancer cells.
The vaccine works by using the body’s immune system to seek out and kill telomerase, an enzyme present in cancer cells. This enzyme makes cancer cells indestructible, allowing them to grow and spread. Liverpool University Professor Neoptolemos, coordinator of the British clinical trial, said that the results are very promising. Many patients in the trial have claimed that the treatment has added years to their lives. However, the final results of the study are not yet available. Currently, there are 1,000 late-stage pancreatic cancer patients participating in the study.
The researchers hope that the vaccine will be an effective treatment option against other cancers such as lung, liver, and skin, resulting in a truly universal vaccine that can be used in many different situations and patients.
Dr. Jay Sangjae Kim, founder of GemVax, the Korean company developing the TeloVac vaccine, said they strongly believe this has the potential to overcome the limits of other current cancer vaccines and become part of the standard of care not only for pancreatic cancer but for various other types of cancers.”
Mesothelioma and pancreatic cancer are two of the most aggressive forms of cancer with few treatment options. While radiation and chemotherapy can lessen patients’ symptoms, the cancers metastasize quickly, leaving patients with minimal survival time. Also, patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma may not experience any symptoms for up to thirty years after they were exposed to asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested they become lodged in the lining of the heart, lungs, and abdomen. Once this occurs, these tissues become inflamed, causing genetic mutations resulting in uncontrolled cell growth and division. Patients who are diagnosed with stage three or greater are only given approximately six months to a year to live, and many who are diagnosed fit into this category.
Mesothelioma is most common among construction workers from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when asbestos was used most frequently as insulation, ceiling tiles and floors.
Several clinical trials, including a promising one from the Memorial-Sloan Cancer Center, have been done in hopes of finding a vaccine for people who have been exposed to asbestos to help prevent mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. To date, none are available outside of clinical trials.