Tom Johns
 Mar 14, 2017

Shrinking cancer

Drug trial offers hope of treating deadly mesothelioma

A new drug developed in Melbourne can shrink tumours in the laboratory.

Plans are now under way for human trials to treat mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of this lethal cancer, for which five-year survival rates are at less than 10 per cent.

Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute senior clinical research fellow Associate Prof Tom John said the drug was an antibody drug conjugate which binds to a target on the surface of the cancer cell and releases little packets of chemotherapy.

Unlike traditional treatments that kill both good and bad cells, this treatment is designed to kill only the bad.

“In mice models the tumours shrank and if we stopped the treatment they grew back,” Prof John said.

The team, which includes Prof Andrew Scott, Associate Prof Hui Gan, and Dr Puey Ling Chia, aims to begin human trials this year.

Unlike many treatments being developed, the drug has already been shown to be safe in humans with brain cancer.

The discovery that mesothelioma expressed the same molecule addressed by the brain cancer drug was a result of hard work, lateral thinking and some serendipity.

After cataloguing mesothelioma tissue samples, creating a database and growing human cancers in mice, Prof John decided to see if the tumours expressed the same molecule his colleagues in the adjacent lab were working on.

“Lo and behold, they did,” he said. “It’s a highly-expressed target.” Trial results remain confidential until published, but the team is cautiously optimistic about the drug’s potential.

Prof John, an oncologist at the Austin Hospital, said most mesothelioma patients had a prognosis of less than 12 months, so there was an urgent need to find better treatments.

The Cancer Council Victoria has awarded two research grants totalling $700,000, one to the team from ONJRI, and another to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The money was generously donated by the late Lyall Watts, who died from mesothelioma, and his family.

Article reprinted with permission from the Herald Sun 13/03/2017