Lilly Cancer Drug Alimta Approved for Mesothelioma Treatment

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. has announced that its cancer drug Alimta, has been approved by regulators for several new uses. The United States Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of approving drugs for various treatment purposes, has given the nod to the drug Alimta to be used either alone or in combination with other chemotherapies to treat two advanced forms of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a cancer linked exclusively to asbestos exposure. Alimta is also newly approved for use in advanced cases of non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common form of the disease. Initially brought to market in 2004, Alimta has generated $1.15 billion in sales in 2008, and an additional $335 million in the first quarter of 2009, to become Lilly’ sixth-best selling drug. Chemotherapy has long been one of the major treatment efforts in mesothelioma patients, either in combination with surgery or alone. Unfortunately, most asbestos cancer treatments for the cancer are only meant to slow the disease’s progress or to provide palliative care, as malignant mesothelioma is considered incurable. An extremely rare, but highly aggressive cancer, it attacks a soft tissue of the body known as the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a membrane which lines the cavities of the body, such as the pleural (lung) cavity, the peritoneal (stomach) cavity, and the pericardial (heart) cavity. It allows these organs to move by producing a special kind of fluid. Mesothelioma occurs when the individual has been exposed to asbestos, a group of organic minerals that are composed of millions of microscopic fibers. When disturbed, these fibers which can be either curled or sharp and needle-like become airborne and are easily inhaled by people in the vicinity. They then can lodge themselves in the mesothelium, lungs or other organs, thereby leading to the deadly cancer. One of the most devastating aspects of this disease is its long latency period, which means that a person can contract the cancer and yet not become symptomatic for up to 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. At this point, the mesothelioma has generally progressed to a late stage and prognosis is therefore grim. Since asbestos was widely used beginning post-World War I, it is expected that the number of mesothelioma cancer cases as well as other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and pleural disease will rise dramatically in the coming decades.