Thursday, August 1st, 2013
Today, The Hon. Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research was at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) in the Bernie Banton Centre for the announcement of a world-first clinical trial into a newly developed drug therapy for the treatment of mesothelioma, a cancer which is almost uniquely caused by exposure to asbestos fibers..

In most patients with mesothelioma the disease has significantly advanced before symptoms appear, making an early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult. There is no cure. The average survival time after diagnosis is 6-18 months.

Following a three year study to characterise the gene expression in mesothelioma, ADRI’s research revealed a particular family of microRNAs (small genes involved in the regulation of cell and tumour biology) was significantly decreased.

This family of microRNAs is well known for its involvement in the biology of other cancers however this is the first time it has been linked to mesothelioma.

When levels of the microRNA family were returned to normal in tumour cell lines by adding synthetic versions of the microRNAs, the growth of the tumour cells was inhibited but importantly, normal cells remained unaffected, suggesting the treatment has minimal side-effects.

The major issue hampering the clinical use of these microRNAs is their specific delivery to tumour cells. To solve this problem ADRI collaborated with Sydney-based biotech company EnGeneIC, inventors of minicells, a new drug delivery system able to transport a drug to the tumour area guided by antibodies.

Using this new approach, mice with human mesothelioma-derived tumours were treated with minicells containing microRNAs, TargomiRs and a remarkable inhibition of tumour growth, far greater than in studies of other agents in the same model, was observed.

Together, these pre-clinical observations formed the basis of the clinical trial protocol.

The first stage of the clinical trial on humans of this unique experimental therapy, TargomiRs, for malignant pleural mesothelioma patients will take about a year to complete.

Professor Nico van Zandwijk, Director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (the world’s first stand-alone research institute tackling the increasing epidemic of asbestos-related diseases) said, “The last significant development in the treatment of mesothelioma occurred ten years ago. While it is early days in the development of TargomiRs, in commencing this important world-first trial we hope to quickly find the optimal human dose and to enable us to take the trial to the next stage.

“To do this we need a further $750,000AUD. If results are favorable (we’ll know in about 2-3 years) this may lead to a new form of treatment for patients with mesothelioma.

“While our preclinical research was confined to mesothelioma, we hope this new approach to cancer treatment will also inhibit other tumour types - there is experimental evidence supporting this so the outcomes of this research are eagerly awaited,” he said.

To donate to this world-first clinical trial or for information visit or call +61 2 9767 9800.


Clare Collins: Ph:+61-2-9319-3844 Mobile/Cell:+61-414-821-957 E:[email protected]
Journalist Notes and photographs are available.


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Asbestos Diseases Research Institute

The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute aims to improve the prevention, the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related diseases and to provide a better future for all those Australians unfortunately exposed to asbestos.

The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) is the first stand-alone research institute tackling the still increasing epidemic of asbestos-related diseases. The ADRI was established by the Asbestos Diseases Research Foundation, a charitable, not-for-profit foundation. The ADRI is located on the Concord Hospital campus in the Bernie Banton Centre which was officially opened by the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd in January 2009.
Clare Collins
P: 02 9319 3844
M: 0414 82 19 57


asbestos, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, Tanya Plibersek, Professor Nico van Zandwijk, clinical trial, cancer, mesothelioma, microRNA, EnGeneIC, ADRI,



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