UVM Researchers Find New Potential Treatment for Mesothelioma
Nicole Winch | November 9, 2021
After years of studies, researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) have found a new possible breakthrough in treating malignant mesothelioma. This potential “first-of-its-kind” therapy has been given the green light to head to a Phase I clinical trial.
Since 2004, only two treatments have been fully approved to treat mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects 3,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Oftentimes, bringing scientific discoveries like this to clinical trials can be a challenge. According to Dr. Randall Holcombe, a director at the UVM Cancer Center, “It is very difficult to make a discovery in the laboratory and then go through all the necessary steps to get this to clinical trials.” “Generally, that often takes 10 to 20 years.”
Only about 1% of research findings make it to trial and achieve FDA approval. In order to reach this level, you need ample funding and a solid research foundation.
Dr. Brian Cunniff, a faculty member at the Larner College of Medicine, has helped develop the new treatment since he began as a Ph.D. student at the college over a decade ago. Dr. Cunniff discovered this new approach alongside his advisor Emeriti Professor Dr. Nicholas Heintz, and UVM Alumni Dr. Kheng (Newick) Bekdache.
The new therapy involves targeting a vulnerability within a cancer cell that can be utilized to our advantage. Dr. Cunniff said, “all tumor cells are very reliant on efficient waste management systems to grow and survive; we were interfering with that.”
“The drug takes away the ability of cells to metabolize toxic byproducts, so they essentially choke on their own exhaust,” Dr. Cunniff said.
After making preparations to leave his post-doctoral work at Harvard University Medical school, Dr. Cunniff received news that a pharmaceutical company wanted to fund a cure for mesothelioma and use their team’s research findings.
Dr. Cunniff and his fellow researchers continued their work and began targeting it towards mesothelioma. The team received an ample amount of funding that helped them, “surmount the huge financial hurdle for bringing scientific findings from the bench to the bedside.”
The clinical trial will begin in England in the later part of this year and will be a “first in human” trial to test the safety of this therapy in mesothelioma patients. This treatment will not only be limited to mesothelioma patients but could also be used for a variety of other cancers as well.