University of Vermont research leads to first-of-Its-kind mesothelioma clinical trial

A promising new therapy for mesothelioma and metastatic cancer, arising from laboratory investigations at the University of Vermont (UVM), in the United States, is about to enter a Phase I clinical trial and launched in England in late 2021.

Dr Brian Cunniff, a faculty member in UVM’s Larner College of Medicine’s Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department, identified the new therapeutic approach as a PhD student in partnership with his advisor, Emeriti Professor Dr. Nicholas Heintz, and UVM Alumni Dr. Kheng (Newick) Bekdache.

The approach targeted a universal vulnerability in cancer cells that could be exploited therapeutically. “All tumor cells are very reliant on efficient waste management systems to grow and survive; we were interfering with that,” said Dr Cunniff.

The pharmaceutical company, RS Oncology offered funding for the research and over the last four-and-a-half years, Dr Cunniff and his research team, in collaboration with Wake Forest School of Medicine and RS Oncology, have been directly responsible for showing the anti-cancer activity of the treatment approach they identified and in developing/testing a suitable formulation for delivery to humans.

“The drug takes away the ability of cells to metabolize toxic byproducts, so they essentially choke on their own exhaust,” Dr Cunniff said.

This will be a ‘first in human’ trial to test the safety and activity of this novel approach in malignant mesothelioma patients and will be subsequently considered as a targeted therapy for other cancers as well.