On October 15, Hospira – a global specialty pharmaceutical and medication delivery company – identified its new, malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) treatment called Tomudex as garnering the backing of a panel of international experts.

Hospira sponsored a medical symposium at the 35th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress held in Milan, Italy (October 8 through 12) to highlight the benefits of its product, Tomudex (raltitrexed), which is currently being debuted across Europe.

During the symposium, experts from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (which conducted the 2003 study) and researchers allied with the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), the Lung Cancer Group, and the National Cancer Institute of Canada (all of whom participated in a 2005 study) reported on the combination of Tomudex with Platinol, or cisplatin, in improving the survival rates of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma, or MPM, is the most common form of mesothelioma, an umbrella nomenclature of asbestos-related cancers that develop in the mesothelial tissues surrounding and protecting the lungs, heart (pericardial) and abdominal organs (peritoneal).

Occurring in 75 percent of patients, and lying dormant for up to 50 years, MPM is, according to one defining study, a “rapidly fatal malignancy with a median survival rime of 1 year” whose most significant risk factor is known exposure to asbestos, as occurs in 70-80 percent of cases of MPM. Secondary risk factors are smoking, age at exposure, sex, and intensity and duration of exposure.

The symptoms of MPM – shortness of breath, pain, cough, fatigue and an inability to eat – result in a decreased quality of life. People generally do not learn they have mesothelioma until the disease is well advanced, by which time surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy (individually or in conjunction) are no longer options because health has been too severely compromised to tolerate such treatments.

Responsible for more than 3,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, with cases on the rise worldwide, the legacy costs of mesothelioma will top $265 billion over the next 40 years, according to experts.

In spite of those facts, there is still no cure for the disease, and no comprehensive ban on asbestos mining, production and product distribution in some of the major nations of the world, including China, India, Russia, Canada and the U.S.

The 2005 study, a randomized, Phase III trail, released results in the October (2005) issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, and showed that Tomudex in combination with Platinol improved outcomes significantly, and could be vital in future mesothelioma treatment.

Tomudex is an injectable cytotoxin (a cell killer), part of a group of anti-cancer drugs known as antineoplastics. By preventing cell growth, Tomudex leads to the elimination of tumors and offers a welcome addition to oncologists’ “therapeutic portfolios”, according to Professor JP van Meerbeeck of Ghent University in Belgium, who is also part of the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

In the study, the use of Tomudex in combination with Platinol, among a cohort of 250 who had been diagnosed with MPM and received no previous therapy, resulted in improved response rates of 23.6 percent (as compared with 13.6 percent for Platinol alone).

Other observations include the fact that 58 percent of the dual-chemotherapy group exhibited stability (that is, no new growth of the tumor), as compared to 54 percent in the Platinol-only group, and the median survival rate for the dual group was 11.4 months, as compared to 8.8 months for Platinol users. Survival rates beyond one year were 46 percent for the first group, as compared to 44 percent for the Platinol group alone.

Study authors said that had not observed the myelosuppression noted with Alimta (pemetrexed), another cytotoxin in the same class, which means that Tomudex users will likely not have to take additional doses of folic acid and vitamin B12.

Tomudex has not yet been approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Earlier this month, Hospira announced the appointment of Svend Andersen to its European division. Andersen is slated to take over on November 1, and will likely help move Tomudex to the forefront of MPM therapy in Europe.