Queen Mary University London develops a new ‘wonder’ drug for cancer

Pegargiminase for the treatment of Asbestos-based cancer

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Queen Mary University London said that the new treatment quadrupled three-year survival rates and increased average survival by 1.6 months.

Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London have developed a new ‘wonder’ drug for an aggressive form of cancer considered to be hard to treat. The study, led by Professor Peter Szlosarek at the university, saw all patients receive chemotherapy every three weeks for up to six cycles for an international trial spanning five countries – the US, the UK, Australia, Italy, and Taiwan between 2017 and 2021.

According to The Guardian, the Queen Mary University London said that the new treatment quadrupled three-year survival rates and increased average survival by 1.6 months. They also added that the new drug works by cutting off the tumor’s food supply. It is the first of its type for mesothelioma in around two decades. For the trial, half the patients were injected with the new drug ADI-PEG20 (pegargiminase), while the other half received a placebo for two years.

The patients included in the final analysis were 249 people with pleural mesothelioma — the disease affecting the lining of the lungs, and were an average age of 70. The trial was conducted at 43 centers across five countries between 2017 and 2021. Patients involved in the study were followed up for at least a year. The patients who received pegargiminase and chemotherapy showed signs of prolonged life for an average of 9.3 months, compared to 7.7 months for those who had the placebo and chemotherapy, as per the study.

The average progression-free survival was 6.2 months with pegargiminase-chemotherapy, compared with 5.6 months among patients who had the placebo and chemotherapy, researchers said.

A study by the journal JAMA Oncology reveals that Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lungs and the leading cause can be exposure to asbestos at work. It is hard to treat and life-threatening and has one of the worst cancer survival rates in the world. The study also highlights that thousands of people are diagnosed with the disease globally and there are about 2,700 new cases of mesothelioma each year in the UK.

Asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, was widely used in the UK as insulation and a fire retardant. The import and use of blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1985, while white asbestos, which is thought to be less dangerous, was banned in 1999. Deaths from mesothelioma are high among people who worked in the shipbuilding and construction industries – especially carpenters, plumbers, and electricians – as well as those who worked in factories that produced asbestos products.

An HSE spokesperson told The Guardian that while controls on the use of blue asbestos were introduced by 1970, the dangers of brown asbestos were not appreciated until well into that decade. The heavy use of brown asbestos is a key reason why the UK, along with Australia, has the highest mesothelioma rates in the world.

The breakthrough follows two decades of work by Szlosarek, after his original discovery that mesothelioma cells lack a protein called ASS1, which enables cells to manufacture the amino acid arginine. This knowledge was used to develop the drug. ADI-PEG20 works by depleting arginine levels in the bloodstream. For tumor cells that cannot manufacture their arginine, this means their growth is thwarted.

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