Finding a cure for mesothelioma cancer may be one step closer for sufferers of the fatal asbestosis disease. And a British research company, based in Oxfordshire, is at the forefront of leading the medical and pharmaceutical search for the elusive cure.

To date, mesothelioma has proven to be stubbornly resistant to most asbestosis treatments and only a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy would be the only real hope of extending a patient’s life expectancy beyond 4 to 12 months.

Modest progress towards extending survival beyond a year has been made in recent years by the development of better, early detection methods and the raising of asbestos awareness of the potential health risks with those men and women who were exposed to asbestos during their working lives.

There is an exceptionally long gestation period of up to 50 years or more from first exposure and inhaling of the invisible fibre dust particles to the appearance of asbestosis symptoms.  Consequently, a confirmed diagnosis most often occurs when the cancer has reached a very advanced stage and the cancer tumours have spread to adjacent cell tissues or distant organs.

Ability to target cancer cells

Many different approaches to treatment, from the latest scanning technology and use of genetic biomarkers to innovative pre-or post operative procedures, have been studied over many years. But today, there is general agreement among the mesothelioma research community that it will be immunotherapy – the body’s own immune system and its ability to target and destroy cancer cells – that will most likely provide the only real answer.

The belief in immunotherapy is shared by the pharmaceutical industry, who ultimately, have the considerable resources to support the necessary research, and the production and distribution of immunotherapy drug treatments.

Up until now, the only cancer treatment known to have any positive effect involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but which is often unable to destroy all the cancer cells without causing harm to adjacent healthy cells.

At the centre of immunotherapy research is T-Cell Receptor technology. An Oxfordshire research company, originally linked to Oxford University, has been conducting pioneering work into the way so-called T-cells in the blood provide natural protection by killing foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.

T-Cell connection

However, the body’s immunity seems unable to prevent cancer cells from multiplying because they are produced by the body itself, and therefore, not recognized as foreign invaders. The company has designed small protein molecules that are able to attach themselves to cancer cells, which then sends a signal to the T-cells in the blood to attack and destroy all cancer cells only from the body.

Recently, pharmaceutical giants, GlaxoSmithKline and Genentech have signed licensing agreements, each with a potential value of $300 million in research funding with the British biotechnology firm. For more than twenty years, they have been almost unique in their work with T-cells and are currently also working with advanced melanomas and creating advanced biological drugs designed to fight a wide variety of cancers.

While at this stage, the new drugs might not necessarily replace other cancer treatments, they may soon provide an actual cure by harnessing a mesothelioma patient’s body own powers of protection.