Scientists based at the Centre for Cancer Immunology have made a breakthrough with immunotherapy that could help patients with a hard-to-treat cancer caused by asbestos.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma, the aggressive form of cancer, linked to breathing in asbestos fibres, could have more time with their loved ones when prescribed an immunotherapy drug currently used to treat several other types of cancer, the new research has found.

The CONFIRM* trial was led by researchers in Southampton’s clinical trials unit, based at the Centre, alongside researchers at the University of Leicester.

Funded by Stand Up To Cancer – a joint fundraising campaign by Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 – the trial found that an immunotherapy called nivolumab** increased survival and made the disease more stable for patients who relapsed following standard treatment.

A total of 332 patients whose tumours were still growing after receiving chemotherapy and who were not able to have surgery, took part in the randomised trial.

A total of 221 of those patients were given nivolumab and the remaining 111 given a placebo once every fortnight for up to 12 months. Twenty-one of the patients who took part in the trial were treated at University Hospital Southampton.

It’s the first study to show that a treatment has been able to improve survival in patients with mesothelioma that has come back after chemotherapy*** Until now, no treatment had been found that could significantly improve outcomes for patients.

The findings, which saw those who had nivolumab survive an average of 9.2 months compared to those in the placebo group who survived 6.6 months,  were presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer****.

Patients who received nivolumab also had more stable disease. The risk of their cancer progressing was reduced by 39%, with people not seeing their cancer worsening for 3.0 months compared with 1.8 months in the placebo group.

Read more about the study here.

Watch Professor Gareth Griffiths, Director of the Cancer Research UK Southampton Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Southampton, discuss the trial and the results here.


* CONFIRM: Checkpoint Blockade for Inhibition of Relapsed Mesothelioma (NCT03063450)

** Stand Up To Cancer, a joint national fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4

*** Nivolumab (brand name OPDIVO) is a human immunoglobulin G4 monoclonal antibody which binds to the programmed death-1 (PD-1) receptor thereby potentiating an immune response to tumour cells

**** Presented at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer World Conference on Lung Cancer by Professor Dean Fennell, Chair of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the University of Leicester in collaboration with Professor Gareth Griffiths and his team at Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, University of Southampton.