Immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) continues to show ground-breaking effectiveness in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma, according to the latest published study.

Mesothelioma specialist Dr. Evan Alley detailed the results earlier this month in The Lancet Oncology.

Alley, chief of hematology and medical oncology at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, believes pembrolizumab could become an accepted second-line treatment for pleural mesothelioma.

Pembrolizumab is marketed as Keytruda by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co.

Alley cited the ongoing clinical trial involving 13 research sites covering six countries. The trial, which includes the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine, evaluates the effectiveness of pembrolizumab for patients with several different advanced malignancies.

The study includes 25 pleural mesothelioma patients.

“This study provides evidence that some patients [with mesothelioma] can have long-term disease control with this drug, which we haven’t seen before,” Alley said in a press release. “This drug appears to be well tolerated.”

Real Need for Second-Line Therapy for Mesothelioma

Standard first-line therapy for mesothelioma includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, but it remains relatively ineffective as a long-term solution.

Alley believes pembrolizumab, classified as a checkpoint inhibitor drug, can provide a needed advancement in treatment.

Checkpoint inhibitors allow the immune system to fight the cancer by negating the PD-L1 protein, which normally prevents the immune response.

“There have been a lot of studies looking at different drugs, but researchers have not seen positive results,” Alley said. “We’ve found this new class of drugs that seems to be more effective than what’s been available in the past.”

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to toxic asbestos fibers. It is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. each year. There is no definitive cure.

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