Diagnosis rates of the lung cancer mesothelioma have risen around the world in the past few decades, a trend that has been directly linked to years of exposure to the carcinogenic fibre asbestos.
The naturally occurring material has properties that make it great for insulating pipe, fire-proofing walls and ceilings, and performing other industrial jobs. Throughout much of the 20th century it was used in everything from cars to building materials.
This resulted in ample potential for exposure to the mineral, and in turn, thousands of new cases of mesothelioma every year. To combat this problem, the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute has been working on a new mesothelioma drug, which will soon go into the clinical trial phase.
New South Wales Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Tanya Plibersek recently announced that the drug will be the first of its kind in the world, and could potentially slow the growth of cancer cells in the lungs.
Currently, those who are diagnosed with the disease typically live a maximum of another 18 months. Sometimes this window is as low as six months, the researchers said.
The new drug comes on the heels of a study that was conducted over the course of three years to learn the gene expression of the cancer cells in question. The most promising part of the new treatment is that problematic cell growth stops, but unaffected cells aren't damaged in the process.
Nico van Zandwijk, director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, said the drug is a breakthrough for several reasons.
"The last significant development in the treatment of mesothelioma occurred ten years ago," he said.
Van Zandwijk added that by building on previous research, he and his team "hope to quickly find the optimal human dose and to enable us to take the trial to the next stage."
However, Mr van Zandwijk conceded that if the organisation hopes to achieve this, it will need another $750,000 in funding. With the proper support, he said, there could be an extremely effective new mesothelioma drug on the market within the next three years.
Researchers have found that asbestos exposure is the root of several diseases, including asbestosis and silicosis. As has been the case with mesothelioma, asbestosis claims have been rising in Australia and around the world for years, pushing medical experts to find a treatment or cure.