sea-toxinsThings are found in surprising places… like under the ocean. Under the waves a creature called the Caribbean Sea Squirt has been identified as the source of a very unique drug that is effective against mesothelioma. What is the source of the drug? Why, the poison the Sea Squirt uses to defend itself against other critters trying to make a meal of it.

The Caribbean Sea Squirt is an immobile (attached to a rock or such) filter feeder that dwells on the ocean floor. Though it looks like a plant, this critter is more closely related to vertebrates than invertebrates like sponges or coral.

Scientists at the University of Vienna uncovered the possibility of using Trabectedin — the toxin of the Sea Squirt — to create drugs that can be used to fight mesothelioma. A European-based pharmaceutical company has now begun harvesting the Sea Squirts to extract the Trabectedin they contain and turn that into a new drug to treat mesothelioma.

The study on Trabectedin use was published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, and the goal of the study was to find new methodologies for cancer that are resistant to treatment such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and brain tumors. In the study, Trabectedin was used almost as a chemotherapy substitute that was used to specifically target DNA and solicited an immune system response. It also showed promise when utilized with cisplatin as a combination therapy, cisplatin being a widely used chemotherapy drug.

In late 2015 the FDA allowed Trabectedin as treatment for advanced or inoperable soft tissue sarcomas, and now Trabectedin is being looked at as an important new drug to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma in particular. This is good news as some 3000 cases of mesothelioma are reported each year with a survival rate or 6 to 18 month after diagnosis.

Scientists used Trabectedin on multiple mesothelioma specimens across six cell lines. They also used it on nonmalignant pleural tissue. The Trabectedin incited a cytotoxic effect on all mesothelioma samples but had little effect on nonmalignant samples. But when combined with Cisplatin, the response was much improved. Trabectedin greatly increased the effectiveness of Cisplatin against sarcomatoid cells in a controlled setting.

Trabectedin was also tested on the sarcomatoid mesothelioma subtype with excellent results, which is exciting as this form of mesothelioma is resistant to all methods of treatment from drugs to radiation.

Elsewhere in the world physicians in the EU and Japan are using Lurbinectedin, an alternative form of Trabectedin in conjunction with standard chemo drug to treat ovarian cancer in situations where surgery is not an option. In Switzerland, a study recent published in the Lung Cancer journal detailed Lurbinectedin’s ability to reduce tumor size while lessening the harsher effects of chemotherapy on the patient. In Italy, multiple clinical trials are currently underway studying the effect of Trabectedin against mesothelioma.

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