Researchers at Baylor University are testing a new cancer drug that may help mesothelioma patients whose diseases continue to progress after treatment has started.

Mesothelioma – the rare form of lung cancer that’s caused primarily by exposure to asbestos and other pollutants – poses a challenge for physicians. Often, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is 20 to 40 years after the victim has been exposed to asbestos and the disease is already advanced. Average survival is just 12-16 months after diagnosis. Plus, mesothelioma is difficult to treat, because tumors are resistant to traditional chemotherapy treatments.

This study out of Baylor University seeks to examine an alternative to traditional treatment options.

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine Mesothelioma Treatment Center and Lung Institute – a state-of-the-art research facility located at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Texas – are investigating the effects of a new drug on the disease. They’re calling on patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma to enroll in the study who have started chemotherapy and whose cancer has not responded to chemotherapy treatments.

Dr. David Sugarbaker, director of Baylor’s Mesothelioma Treatment Center and Lung Institute, said in a press release that treatment options for patients “whose mesothelioma has progressed or does not respond after initial anticancer treatment” are severely limited. That’s why clinical like this are so important for understanding the most effective options for treating the disease, he added.

The Baylor Phase II clinical trial will examine the effectiveness of the investigational drug compared to the most commonly used medications used to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma. The drug binds to a protein on the surface of cancer cells, and releases chemotherapy directly into the tumor to slow or halt growth or new cells.

Mesothelioma Researchers Continue to Investigate the Molecular Biology of the Disease

Like the Baylor study, cancer researchers around the world are making promising discoveries in the fight against mesothelioma. Recently, the drug galinpepimut-S was granted “Fast Track” status by the FDA, which the FDA awards to new drugs that treat serious or life-threatening conditions that do not have known cures or reliable treatment options.

The drug, developed by biopharmaceutical company SELLAS Life Sciences Group, has showed promising results during a Phase II trial. Forty patients were enrolled in the study, and the drug was found to increase median survival to 24.8 months, compared to 16.6 months for the study’s control group. When the drug was administered to patients who had all or part of their tumors removed, the drug showed a “significant survival benefit.”

Mesothelioma research – unlike other forms of cancer – remains underfunded in the U.S. Researchers receive little from government funding, and outside fundraising is limited. But yet, researchers continue to move forward, gaining new insights into the science and understanding of the disease’s resistance to traditional treatment continues to advance.

Studies like these show how researchers’ understanding of molecular biological will continue to pioneer new treatment options that increase average survival rates.