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Recent Research on Pemetrexed

Recent Research On Mesothelioma Drug, Pemetrexed (Alimta)

Austalian Research Study Results

A group of Australian researchers recently published the results of a study that examined the effectiveness of Pemetrexed, the only drug approved by the FDA specifically to fight malignant pleural mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos which kills roughly 3,000 Americans every year.  The retrospective study found that while some patients responded well to treatment with the drug, the survival rates were somewhat lower than reported from previous clinical trials. 

The study results were published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology by researchers at the University of Western Australia.  They went through medical records of 62 mesothelioma patients who were treated with pemetrexed between 2004 and 2007, making note of their response to the chemotherapy drug, longevity after treatment, and other factors. 

Frontline Therapy for Mesothelioma

While the most standard course of treatment for mesothelioma patients is a combination regimen of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, for the purposes of this study the researchers examined data from patients who were treated with drug therapy only (either pemetrexed by itself or in combination with other drugs.)

Australia has a vested national interest in mesothelioma research because the state of Western Australia has one of the highest rates of the deadly disease in the world.  Many people within the region were employed in mining, refining, and transportation of crocidolite asbestos from 1943 to 1966.  With an incubation period of up to 50 years, there may still be people who were exposed to asbestos during that time who have yet to develop symptoms. 

Pemetrexed (Alimta)

Pemetrexed is an antifolate given to mesothelioma patients to shrink the size of the cancerous tumors in the lungs caused by asbestos fibers imbedded in the soft tissue.  The drug works by denying the tumors access to a key building block they use to grow:  folic acid enzymes.

Manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, the drug is also sold under the brand name Alimta.  Typically, pemetrexed is combined with other cancer drugs such as Cisplatin.  Early clinical trials of the drug report that pemetrexed is effective at treating mesothelioma and prolonging the life of suffers though it is not a cure. 

When longevity data was compiled from the mostly male survey group, researchers found that patients lived an average of less than a year after beginning treatment with pemetrexed.  Considering that the average length of survival after diagnosis with malignant pleural mesothelioma is about 14 months, even extending that a month or two may be worth suffering chemotherapy for some mesothelioma patients. 

That year life expectancy is slightly less than Eli Lilly reported in its phase III clinical trials of pemetrexed before its FDA approval.  Those results were gathered by researchers at the University of Chicago in 2002.  That data concluded that patients undergoing combined chemotherapy with drugs including pemetrexed lived longer, experienced less pain, and had their tumors shrink in 41 percent of test population. 

The Australian study concluded with a recommendation that malignant pleural mesothelioma patients be screened further before beginning combined chemotherapy with pemetrexed in order to get the best response possible.