Although malignant mesothelioma is not a classically immunogenic cancer, there is abundant evidence for immune recognition. The relative ease of obtaining tumor tissue makes mesothelioma ideal for studying surrogate biomarkers such as lymphocytic infiltration or expression of transduced genes. There is evidence that malignant mesothelioma patients as well as asbestos-exposed persons without mesothelioma have impaired immune responsiveness. Substantial progress has been made in animal models using several biological and immunological techniques, but clinical application has been problematic. Systems studied have included lysis by interleukin-2 (IL-2)-activated lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a p16-expressing adenovirus vector, suicide gene therapy using the herpes simplex virus-tyrosine kinase (HSV-tk) followed by ganciclovir, and immunomodulatory gene therapy with IL-2, IL-4, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), IFN-alpha, TNF-alpha, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), IL-6, and IL-1beta transfected into tumors. Vaccinia virus has been studied as a vector for cytokine gene transfer. Suicide gene therapy has been combined with a tumor vaccine. The University of Western Australia is initiating a pilot study of autologous vaccination in malignant mesothelioma. Novel agents under study include the angiogenesis inhibitors SU5416, bevacizumab, and thalidomide. ZD1839, an orally administered, highly selective inhibitor of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase, is being tested in a phase II trial. Since platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) is thought to be an autocrine growth factor for mesothelioma STI-571 (Gleevec; Novartis, Basel, Switzerland), a highly selective inhibitor of the PDGF receptor tyrosine kinase, is being tested in a phase II trial. The development of more active cytotoxic combinations in this disease should facilitate further studies of chemoimmunotherapy. It seems likely that no single treatment modality will be effective by itself.
Copyright 2002 by W.B. Saunders Company.