Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of the public in countless ways, claiming the lives of over half a million Americans. Individuals with underlying health issues, including patients with mesothelioma and other cancers, are at an increased risk of complications from COVID-19. However, in the past few months, great strides have been made with the development, approval, and administration of vaccines that target COVID-19, and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation urges those receiving mesothelioma immunotherapy to get the COVID vaccine as soon as they are eligible. In the wake of this, promising improvements have also been made in the arena of the treatment of mesothelioma.

In mid-February of 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted fast-track designation to ONCOS-102, an immunotherapy vaccine that targets malignant mesothelioma and other tumors. Importantly, having been granted this designation, the approval process will be expedited, essentially earning an early endorsement from the FDA. The fast-track designation is primarily used for new drugs that aim at unmet medical needs and grants additional access to FDA resources and a priority review status. Currently, mesothelioma, which is primarily associated with asbestos exposure, has no known cure. The most effective treatment has been aggressive surgery, but the majority of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are ineligible for this procedure.

This vaccine is a potentially promising drug for mesothelioma. The ongoing clinical trial has seen largely positive results: patients who have received the vaccine in combination with chemotherapy have seen a median survival of 20.5 months, seven months longer than the control group receiving only standard chemotherapy.

The past year has seen other improvements for mesothelioma treatment—in 2020, for the first time in 16 years, the FDA approved a new systemic treatment for mesothelioma. The immunotherapy combination of Opdivo and Yervoy was approved last May after showing four-month improved median survival for patients.

These recent breakthroughs could prove groundbreaking, and it will remain to be seen what affect this vaccine or other future treatments may have on asbestos-related litigation. We will continue to follow these developments closely to provide further updates.