Alfacell Corp., the New Jersey pharmaceutical company, got enough patients to go ahead with phase IIIb testing on Onconase, (ranpirnase). Another step in the long process toward getting approval for that drug, which is promising in mesothelioma treatment. The drug companies sometimes target mesothelioma in their development process even though it is a rare form of cancer. The reason is that the FDA (and equivalents in other countries) are thought to be more amenable to drug approval for diseases with no other good treatments. And then if they get approved for mesothelioma and establish a safety profile in that cancer, the hope is that the FDA will approve the drug for other, more common cancers.
Impact Analysis blog talks about the integrity of B Readers as expert witnesses in occupational health court cases. NIOSH B Reader approval is granted to physicians who demonstrate proficiency in the classification of chest radiographs for the pneumoconioses using the International Labour Office (ILO) Classification System. Mesothelioma Aid’s write-up on B-readers is here.
This is pretty esoteric stuff, and not many doctors are proficient enough to read the radiographs. The thing is, some of the expert readers were interpreting radiographs as showing asbestosis in some trials and as silicosis in other trials.
This is a pretty common mistake in the popular press – thinking mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer. In mesothelioma, the tumor is on the mesothelium, which is the lining of the pleural cavity. In lung cancer, the tumor is in the lung tissue.
In this case, the story was on Dana Reeve, the widow of Christopher Reeve, who died of lung cancer at age 44. Most (but not all) cases of lung cancer can be attributed to smoking. In the popular imagination, all lung cancer patients smoked, but that is not necessarily true. Dana Reeve said she never smoked, but she got cancer anyway.
The CNN story says “other factors associated with lung cancer include exposure to asbestos or fine airborne particulates.” I understand that journalists don’t want to spend time and space explaining that asbestos causes mesothelioma, which is not the same as lung cancer, but it still sometimes irks me.