Tackling hard-to-treat lung cancers

Professor Dean Fennell

Professor Dean Fennell


Mesotheliomas are a type of lung cancer mainly caused by asbestos. Despite all our medical advances, it remains as one of the hardest cancers to beat. Professor Dean Fennell, a medical doctor specialising in cancers of the chest area, is determined to change this.

He is finding ways to boost our immune system’s ability to track down and fight cancer cells in the same way it defends us from viruses and bacteria. This is because cancer cells are very good at avoiding our immune system. One way that mesothelioma cells dodge the immune system is by producing a molecule called PDL-1. When cells of the immune system encounter PDL-1, they are soothed into a sleep-like state – and lose the ability to destroy any cancer cells.

Professor Fennell is now testing a drug that interferes with PDL-1 and wakes the immune system up, leaving it free to attack the tumour. 

Now, thanks to support from Stand Up To Cancer, more than 100 people have been enrolled onto the trial to test this drug, and Professor Fennell is starting to see some amazing results. This could be the first step in providing the evidence we need to change clinical practice, transforming the way we treat people with mesothelioma.